Gujarat elections: Votes for NOTA suggest there’s room for third party in Gujarat

After Shankersinh Vaghela merged his Rashtriya Janata Party with the Indian National Congress in 1998, Gujarat has seen a straight fight between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While the two parties together won all but six seats in the 2017 assembly elections, a careful analysis of the votes indicates that there might be support for a third major party in the state.

Ever since “none of the above” (NOTA) was introduced as an option prior to the 2014 general election, it has piqued the curiosity of analysts and commentators. A vote for NOTA is seen as a strong rejection of all available candidates, since the voter makes the effort to register her vote, but doesn’t vote for any of the given candidates. A strong showing of NOTA across a state can be seen as a sign of rejection of all available parties/alliances.

When NOTA was first introduced in the 2014 general election, it gathered a respectable 1% of the vote. This wasn’t equally distributed across states, though, with small states such as Puducherry and Meghalaya casting nearly 3% of the votes for NOTA. Among the large states (with more than 10 million votes), though, the state where NOTA had the highest share was Gujarat, closely followed by Bihar.

Since then, NOTA has been listed on the electronic voting machine (EVM) for each subsequent assembly election, with varying fortunes. In the Delhi assembly elections in 2015, barely 0.4% of voters opted for NOTA (perhaps the presence of a relatively new party—the Aam Aadmi Party—meant that there was less reason to reject all parties). At the other end of the spectrum, the “best” performance by NOTA was in the Bihar assembly elections in 2015, when 2.4% of all voters chose to reject all candidates.

This might have in part been due to the “grand alliance” formed ahead of the elections by the Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress to take on the BJP (the alliance has since collapsed), with the NOTA votes being a vote against this tie-up.

The just concluded elections in Gujarat are second on this list, with 1.8% of all voters choosing to reject all candidates, again a rather high number.

There is another axis where the role of NOTA in the just concluded elections in Gujarat is rather significant—it played spoiler in a whopping 30 seats in the state—nearly one-sixth of all constituencies that went to the polls. We assume that NOTA has played spoiler if the number of votes in favour of NOTA in a particular constituency is greater than the margin of victory in that constituency.

Next on the list is the Tamil Nadu assembly election in 2016, when the number of votes for NOTA exceeded the victory margin in 25 of the 232 seats, about 11%.

In the Bihar assembly election in 2015, on the other hand, where NOTA got 2.4% of votes, votes garnered by NOTA exceeded the victory margin in less than 10% of the seats.

This “strong performance” of NOTA in the recently concluded Gujarat elections on two counts—total vote share and number of seats “spoiled”—suggests that there is definite room for a third party or front in the state. Given the close fight in the recent elections, it will be interesting to see how the state’s politicians react to this.

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