Madhya Pradesh is a large central Indian state that boasts of highest tribal population in India. Of the 230 seats in its state assembly, 47 are Scheduled Tribe (ST) reserved while 34 are Scheduled Caste reserved. A common voting trend that binds these assembly segments is that of high percentage of NOTA votes.
In 2018 Madhya Pradesh Elections, 18 seats registered NOTA votes over 5000. Out of these 18 segments, 13 turned out to be ST reserved, while one was Scheduled Caste (SC) reserved and remaining 4 were unreserved (or GEN).
Bhainsdehi, an unreserved constituency in Betul districts registered highest number of NOTA polls in MP last year, with almost 3.6 per cent votes (7948 votes) being polled under this category.
Shahpurs (ST reserved), Junnardeo (ST reserved), and Jhabua (ST reserved) come next in line with 6543, 6245 and 6188 votes respectively.
The unique trend makes one wonder: Is the utilization of the ‘None of the above’ (NOTA) option in Indian elections primarily aimed at expressing discontent towards the political class in general or specifically towards politicians belonging to a particular caste and group?
It is worth noting that it is not necessarily the tribal population, but rather the non-tribal population, who may be driving the use of NOTA to assert ‘representation,’ and choosing to press on the NOTA option rather than voting for a tribal or Dalits.
National Coordinator of Congress’ Data Analytics team, Mayur Shekhar Jha said to DH “We cannot ascertain if the NOTA votes polled from ST reserved seats in MP were of tribals, as it could be a marker of Upper caste protest against reservation. Though it is also true that among tribals, angst against BJP has been very high, as they have not figured in ruling party’s policy frameworks for over 15 years now.”
This trend is not exclusive to MP as many other states from central India have witnessed similar voting patterns.
According to a study conducted by Garima Goel from Kings College, London, and published in the Economic and Political Weekly, it has been observed that caste groups are primarily utilizing this approach to advocate for improved representation. The research even includes anecdotal evidence from Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district and Chhattisgarh’s Bastar, where Other Backward Classes explicitly rejected Scheduled Tribe candidates and instead demanded enhanced representation for their own community.
Although the percentage of votes cast for None of the Above (NOTA) option typically ranges from 1 to 3 per cent of the total votes, it can still provide valuable insights into the motivations of ordinary voters in India. Additionally, for candidates involved in closely contested elections, addressing the concerns and demands of NOTA voters presents an opportunity to secure a marginal share of the vote.
The 230 seats of Madhya Pradesh are going to polls on November 17. The counting of votes are scheduled for December 3.
(Published 13 November 2023, 23:08 IST)