NOTA is not The One

Updated: Apr 14, 2019, 07:55 IST | Paromita Vohra

The idea of NOTA as a political option has gained popularity in tandem with the re-framing of politics as limited to the ritual of voting

NOTA is not The One
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Paromitra VohraI've spent the week in neighbouring Nepal, but the conversations have been the same as at home: the Indian elections. There is real concern and anxiety about the naked fascism now in the utterances of the ruling party: declarations of ethnic cleansing, terming communities insects. Some are strongly opposed to the BJP's politics of fundamentalism and violence, others, who once supported the party, are now strongly disillusioned by their failure to deliver things other than rhetoric and rhyming slogans. On the other hand, the opposition, dispersed, frequently going with a political discourse of "you're badder than me", only occasionally inspiring, seems like a weak proposition. In this scenario, I have heard more and more people say "I will vote NOTA", the option to choose None of the Above.

Of all the political choices one could make, NOTA is the least political because it is, in fact, not a real political choice. Like the exhortation to "vote for anyone but BJP, except I won't tell you who", like the "we'll support the government from outside" and like the person who is "saving it for marriage", NOTA exhibits purity, and is shot through with an unwillingness to choose and lose, and to build options gradually.

NOTA might be effective when an entire population strategises to vote en masse perhaps, as a kind of protest. But as a personal preference, it is like declaring that you are above everything, too pure to choose something strategically, until The One comes along. You can pretend you are principled because you perform the act of voting, but you don't choose anyone. It's an inside-out version of those who are too lazy to get a voter ID made, while vigorously fighting with everyone they disagree with politically (we all know one or four).

The idea of NOTA as a political option has gained popularity in tandem with the re-framing of politics as limited to the ritual of voting. A large advertising machinery has been at play for several years, which keeps telling us that we are political only by virtue of voting, not by virtue of all our other ideological choices. It is a consumable politics,

Instagrammable with its inked finger posts, but one that discourages reflection, questioning and the hard work of thinking about social systems. This simplification plays into the video game-like polarisation of politics today. This is contrary to earlier channels of democratic education — the subject of Civics in school, for example — in which to be a citizen meant understanding some of the processes of election and democratic institutions. Today, many who may share political propaganda online, and feel patriotic by voting, have no knowledge of how elections work, what constituencies are or
the manifesto of the party they've voted for.

Politics is about making choices, about the argument for why those choices are made, about the implications of those choices, about being implicated in choices. It is about commitment to a set of ideas and aspirations as well as a belief about how these aspirations should be achieved; it is a conversation about identity, equality, justice, engagement and social contracts. At its simplest level, it is about us vis-à-vis, not versus, others. To be engaged and implicated in the act of democracy, one must choose, preferably wisely, perhaps imperfectly. Not choosing is not an option.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

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