With the NOTA option becoming available to voters in Gujarat assembly polls for the first time, political analysts feel that some caste groups and also sections of small and medium entrepreneurs, who seem to be unhappy with the BJP over the GST, may make use of that. The BJP, however, dismissed the suggestion that NOTA could prove to be a spoiler as the party is confident of the popular appeal of its policies as reflected by the outcome of the recent panchayat polls. During the 2012 Gujarat assembly elections, the NOTA (None of the Above) option was not available on the EVMs. However, it will be available to voters this time. According to a political analyst, NOTA, when introduced in 2014 general elections, was used by over 4.20 lakh voters in Gujarat. “That time, the Congress was going through its worst political phase and a strong anti-incumbency sentiment was prevailing across the central and western India. Still some 4.20 lakh voters (inn Gujarat) used NOTA,” the analyst said. “This time, some socio-economic segments are disappointed with the ruling BJP. Some castes are aggressively opposing the saffron party, while some sectors, such as small and medium scale industries, are severely criticising it for the way it introduced GST and pushed for it. The NOTA votes will come from these sectors, who had earlier supported the BJP leaders,” he said.
The ruling BJP claimed that the NOTA option would not impact it much, stating that it got a strong support in the the recent village panchayat elections. “The number of voters has increased in the last five years. The youth has largely benefited and is satisfied with the BJP government. Even if we accept that some people would use NOTA instead of voting for a BJP candidate, still we have support of the newly-added voters in the state,” a BJP leader said. When asked about over four lakh voters using the NOTA option in the 2014 general elections, the leader said, “The overall voting for the BJP had increased in the 2014 polls. The results of the recently-held village panchayat elections also showed strong support to BJP. “I don’t think NOTA would be a spoiler for us. If some voters are going to use NOTA, then both major parties would be affected and not just BJP.”
Meanwhile, the Congress has changed its approach towards the NOTA, especially after a new pre-poll survey predicted the party securing at least 78 seats in the 182-member House. “Earlier, the NOTA was expected to cut the margin of the BJP. Now, with NOTA and some consolidation of non-BJP and anti-BJP voters, we could win some seats,” a senior Congress leader said. Compared to the Lok Sabha elections, mobilisation of voters in assembly election is always higher, which also means compared to 2014, more people will vote in 2017, the leader added.
According to political observers, there is another factor which could be crucial- mobilisation of voters by Patidar quota agitation spearhead Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, who all are opposed to the BJP. Though the OBCs are slightly sceptical of Hardik Patel’s quota demand, the Congress has claimed to have addressed the differences and focused on maximum consolidation of these votes in its favour. The Gujarat elections will take place on December 9 and 14 and the counting will take place on December 18.