Home / News / Andheri Bypoll: NOTA Steals Show With Most Votes After Winner Rutuja Latke from Uddhav Team

Andheri Bypoll: NOTA Steals Show With Most Votes After Winner Rutuja Latke from Uddhav Team

In a contest almost devoid of competition, Rutuja Latke, the candidate of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena won a resounding majority of votes to emerge victorious in the Andheri (East) bypoll, results for which were declared on Sunday. But there was a surprise in store hinting that an unofficial “NOTA campaign” against late MLA Ramesh Latke’s wife might have worked, at least in a way. ‘None of the above’ option, or NOTA, polled second with over 12,000 votes.

An election official said while Rutuja won the bypoll with 66,000 votes, there were 12,806 votes polled in favour of NOTA. A total of 86,570 votes were cast in the bypoll, which was necessitated after Ramesh Latke’s death.

Latke was pitted against six independent candidates in the bypoll, which became a mere formality after the BJP withdrew its candidate from the fray. What was surprising was that NOTA polled more votes than any of the other six candidates. The NOTA, or a voter’s ‘right to reject’, gives an option to electors not to vote in favour of any candidate in an election.

This was the first major electoral contest in Maharashtra after the Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government collapsed in June following a revolt by a section of Shiv Sena MLAs led by Eknath Shinde. After the bypoll results, Thackeray said Rutuja Latke’s victory showed people were supporting the Shiv Sena.

“This is just the beginning of a fight. The (party) symbol is important but people look for the character too. The bypoll results show people support us,” Thackeray said.

ALLEGATIONS OF A ‘NOTA CAMPAIGN’

A few days before the bypoll took place on November 3, the Thackeray Sena made allegations that voters were being “paid” to choose NOTA option for the Andheri bypoll. A senior poll official had followed this up by declaring that it was “illegal” for any party or candidate to run such a “NOTA campaign”, especially since the campaigning had ended.

Anil Parab, a leader of the Thackeray faction, had alleged that some rivals of Rutuja were asking voters to press the NOTA button. The party made the allegations on November 1, on the day campaigning came to an end.

Parab had also raised the issue with the Election Commission as well as police. He had said this will have ramifications in the upcoming BMC elections, too, as for the first time it will see the combined strength of MVA allies (Thackeray-led Sena, NCP and Congress).

“Some people are being paid money to choose NOTA,” the former Maharashtra minister had alleged. His party had video clips showing purported workers of the Republican Party of India (RPI) indulging in such acts, he added. The RPI (Athawale faction) is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

“On the one hand, the BJP withdrew its candidate saying it respects the tradition of not fielding a candidate against family members of deceased lawmakers. On the other hand, people are being asked to cast their vote for NOTA,” Parab had said.

Rutuja, however, registered a comfortable win with the added might of the NCP and the Congress, both constituents of the MVA and allies of the Thackeray faction, behind her candidature.

WHAT DID THE EC SAY ABOUT SO-CALLED NOTA CAMPAIGN?

Soon after the Thackeray Sena made these allegations, the EC said it was illegal for any party or candidate to ask people to use the NOTA option, especially after campaigning had ended. Maharashtra chief electoral officer Shreekant Deshpande had said since the campaign for the bypoll was officially over, a candidate or political party asking people to use NOTA will be considered part of an election campaign.

“If a candidate or political party asks people to use NOTA, it will be considered as a campaign, and it will be illegal (as campaigning for the bypoll has officially ended),” Deshpande said, when asked about Parab’s claims and the Thackeray Sena’s allegations over the so-called NOTA campaign.

He added: “If a third party or individual asks voters to opt for NOTA, it will not be considered a campaign.”

Deshpande further said the EC will take action only after it looks into complaints against a candidate or party asking people to use NOTA, after campaigning had ended.

WHAT IS NOTA?

Simply put as the voter’s ‘right to reject’, the NOTA is an option on the electronic voting machine or the ballot papers for people to choose if they do not want to opt for any other political party. Earlier, if a voter wanted to exercise the option of not choosing, they had to inform the presiding officer at the polling booth. This, in a way, violated the right to secrecy of an individual that is an integral part of a free and fair election.

When introducing the option, the EC had said although these votes were counted, it will not have an impact on the poll results. So, whether NOTA gets most or least number of votes, it has no impact on the total valid votes. There have been calls from political experts as well as those in support of stringent reforms in the electoral system to make NOTA count. Many have said if NOTA gets more votes than political candidates in an electoral contest, there should be a re-election, and that NOTA must be treated as a “fictional electoral candidate”.