The Supreme Court today notified the Centre and the Election Commission for replies on a public interest litigation (PIL) on the right to reject candidates in an election and holding of fresh polls if ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) gets the maximum votes in a constituency. The petition said that the Law Commission had proposed this in 1999. The Supreme Court in 2013 upheld the right of voters to reject all candidates contesting the election in a constituency, saying it would go a long way in cleansing the political system.
In the 2019 general election, NOTA secured over 6.5 lakh votes, which was 1.06 per cent of the overall vote share. Of the 36 political parties, whose representatives were elected to the 17th Lok Sabha, 15 got fewer votes than NOTA. Many of these parties contested only a handful of seats.
Initially, the bench of Chief Justice Sharad A Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian was today reluctant to hear the PIL filed by one Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, represented by Senior Advocate Maneka Guruswamy. The petition says the right to reject will check corruption and stop political parties from choosing candidates in an autocratic manner.
“The right to reject and elect a new candidate will give power to the people to express their discontent. If voters are dissatisfied with the background or performance of the contesting candidate, they will opt for NOTA to reject such candidate and elect a new candidate,” the petition said.
It also sought a direction to the Election Commission to restrict those candidates and political parties, whose election has been nullified, from taking part in the fresh polls.
Chief Justice Bobde said, “It is a constitutional problem. If your argument is accepted…(if) all candidates are rejected, then nobody can become MP and the constituency goes unrepresented. If there is sufficient number of constituencies in which NOTA has prevailed, then many constituencies will go unrepresented. Then how will you constitute the Parliament?”
The petitioner argued that if 99 per cent of the constituents vote for NOTA and one vote goes the other way, then that one vote will decide the election. Mr Upadhyay said that despite several representations, the concerned authorities had no responded to him on the matter.
The Chief Justice then said that if a political party has sufficient influence over voters, it can then manage to get candidates rejected in many constituencies using the NOTA rule implied by the petitioner and seats won’t get filled and Parliament won’t be constituted properly.
“Your answer is ‘if a constituency goes unrepresented because all candidates rejected, then there should be fresh polls’?” the court asked.
The petitioner denied this saying the “right to reject” will inspire political parties. The Chief Justice finally accepted the petition and issued the notices.