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Angry farmers in Karnataka may choose the none of the above, or NOTA, option in large numbers when they vote in the upcoming elections, the first assembly elections in the state when voters will have this option.
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In the five days since I started touring the Bombay-Karnataka region, I have met multiple farmer groups who said they are disappointed with the existing crop of MLAs or MPs, the “empty promises of politicians” and their economic distress.
They said they have made up their mind to use the NOTA option for “teaching the ministers a lesson”.
This was a surprise because a recent state-wide survey said 55% of Karnataka voters were unaware of he NOTA option. Karnataka goes to polls on May 12.
Disquiet Among Farmers
In Belagavi district, a group of sugarcane farmers said neither a politician nor the leading political parties in the region have delivered on their promises.
“We have tried all parties — Congress, BJP, JDS — they are all the same. This time we will not vote for anyone,” said a farmer.
Belagavi is home to nearly 30 sugar mills, both owned by private companies and run as cooperatives that are owned or partially run by local politicians. But sugarcane farmers said they are facing acute economic misery.
Though arrears are mounting and cane prices are dropping, 'politician' sugar mill owners are reluctant to offer better prices, according to them.
“If these leaders continue like this, farmers will be finished,” said another farmer. The anger of farmers is palpable in the region.
The NOTA supporters grow in numbers of one were to travel to the interiors of the Dharwad and Gadag districts.
The region has long been confronted with a dry spell because the canals of Malaprabha basin have been running on empty for years.
The agitation to bring water from Mahadayi river is now confined to a few talukas.
However, the villagers in this region are now making water an election issue. "We will vote only for that candidate who gets us water or resolves Mahadayi issue or else we will not vote for anyone," said a woman.
Vijay Kulkarni, a leader of farmers who has led the Mahadayi agitation for the past 15 years said, "We used NOTA option in the district panchayat elections and there were over 2 lakh NOTA votes”, adding that the NOTA quantum will radically increase in the assembly elections.
NOTA was introduced for the first time in the last panchayat elections.
A Vulnerable Tool
Though the comments by the rural voters indicate an increasing awareness of their rights and their desire to use a democratic tool to usher in change, NOTA has its limitations.
Even if there are 50% NOTA votes, the candidate with the higher number of the remaining votes wins the election.
In the past few elections, strategists in political parties have actually used NOTA votes to split the vote share of opponents.
Yet, independent analysts believe NOTA as a big step towards electoral reforms in the country.
Jagdeep Kochhar of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) said it will take time, but NOTA will certainly push political parties to field worthy candidates.
“Proposals for making NOTA relevant to the outcome of elections are already drafted in a report, but was not considered while framing the NOTA policy. This is also a reform that will require large numbers on ground and will have to be fought for,” he said.
According to a recent survey by ADR, in the past 5 years, 1.33 crore voters in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections opted for NOTA.
First Published: May 7, 2018 12:41 PM IST