In the recent Assembly Elections in Chhattisgarh votes for ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) has partially damaged the main parties as in 16 out of 90 seats NOTA votes were more than the margin of victory. Both Congress and the BJP got eight each out of these 16 seats. 3.07 percent of little more than 1.30 crore valid votes have gone to NOTA.
Interestingly, NOTA votes were not only confined to the urban areas but a significant number of NOTAs were cast in tribal and Maoist areas too.
In a place like Dantewada in south Chhattisgarh, where candidates could not campaign properly because of Maoist embargo, 9677 NOTA votes were cast. Devati Karma, wife of recently assassinated Congress leader, Mahendra Karma, won by 5987 votes from this constituency. “NOTA votes are almost double of the margin and definitely has influenced polling but to what extent that I can not say now,” said Bhima Mandawi, the BJP candidate of Bastar. Mr. Mandawi did not rule out the possibility of a Maoist whip for NOTA.
In three of eight seats of Congress in Bastar Division – Kanker, Kondagaon and Dantewada – have a moderate margin which is less than votes polled under NOTA. The BJP leadership perceives NOTA votes as an effect than a cause. “The issue is not about NOTA but something bigger – why have we lost eight out of 12 seats in Bastar Division, where BJP has been winning in every election since 2003,” said a senior party official. So far BJP – after initial investigation – has identified the grievances of Other Backward Class (OBC) as the main factor in losing four out of five seats in the north of Bastar Division.
Chhattisgarh has about 45-50% OBC electorate with a larger percentage of it concentrated in the plains but with a significant percentage also in the northern districts of Bastar Division.
The party feels that the OBC community leaders have asked their voters to vote for independent candidates or NOTA in northern areas of Bastar. As well as the two Congress wings noted above, in Keshkal, NOTA was slightly less than the margin, and an independent got double the margin.
In Bhanupratappur, it was a clear win for the independent candidate against the BJP. A possible motive for the OBCs pull themselves out was the long standing demand of converting the Kanker seat into a general one. Presently, it is a tribal seat. “Possibly this is one reasons why OBCs of Bastar have chosen independent or NOTA over the BJP, but it could have been managed,” said the senior official of the party.
In south of Bastar Division, 10848 NOTA votes were cast in Chitrakot while 7179 votes went to NOTA in Bijapur. More than one-third of Chhattisgarh seats, more than five thousand votes were cast for NOTA. Congress on the other hand lost eight out of 16 seats where NOTA votes were more than the winning margin. However, like the BJP official the Congress candidates also said that NOTA is one of the “lesser factors” for their defeat.
Ashish Singh Thakur, the Congress candidate from Takhatpur who was defeated by 608 votes gave a unique reason for his defeat. “There were two EVM machines for each of my polling stations because in machine A there were names of 16 candidates and there was no space for more. NOTA was in serial number 17 and thus placed in machine B. Now, my name was in serial number one of machine A, during campaign we told the electors to press button number one and they did press number one but in machine B thus my genuine votes were wasted,” said Mr. Thakur. 1557 votes were cast for NOTA from Mr. Thakur’s constituency. However, he clarified that NOTA was a small factor for his defeat.
“Before election Congress powerful trade union leader joined BSP, he has polled nearly 30,000 votes defeating me by 608 votes…so NOTA was not the only factor,” said Mr. Thakur.
The Congress candidate from Khallari constituency also did not attribute his defeat to the NOTA votes, which were more then the margin of his defeat “I was defeated by the power of money,” he said and identified NOTA as a ‘small factor’. However, all the politicians said that in the future they will have to deal with this ‘new rival’ i.e. NOTA.