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NOTA Shadow

To vote for NOTA is easy enough; to stand for elections and to choose a responsible representative is tough


The campaigning for student council elections at Jindal Global University (JGU) comprises not only manifestos and friends canvassing for each other, but also a less discussed aspect: negative or NOTA campaigning. NOTA or None of the Above is an option in an election system that allows voters to express disapproval of all the candidates. In the 2019 elections, NOTA was as good as any other candidate. There was so much campaigning for NOTA that in Jindal Global Law School (JGLS), more votes were cast for it than any candidate up for four posts. An Instagram page also put out a parody song to register this unprecedented development.

This might seem a run-of-the-mill hazard of student council elections, but very often this can also turn into negative campaigning. In the 2019 elections for the Jindal School of Journalism and Communication (JSJC), the only candidate against Kriti Soneja on the day of voting was NOTA. After she lost, Soneja was informed of the negative campaigning among students. What was shocking was not the loss, but a discussion on her personal life that became bigger than her manifesto. Students of other schools have also had similar experiences. A Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA) student not only faced questions about their personal life but also academic credentials. Negative campaigning can take on other forms, such as tearing away of election posters, experienced by Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities (JSLH) student Madhav, who was cultural secretary last year.

In 2020, the problem grew more acute as the entire campaigning shifted online. Other issues such as candidates trying to create vote banks and circulation of fake news attached themselves to the process, reported many candidates in the fray. Shubham Gupta, now president of the JGLS student council, said this year’s election in his school was almost a representation of the country’s current political scenario, with complaint mechanisms, opinion polling and more. This made the process quite taxing for the election commission as well as the candidates. JSIA also had its fair share of Instagram pages in support of NOTA and a strong wave of negative campaigning that put the candidates in a difficult position.

The JSJC elections, on the other hand, had a much smoother run this year. Even then, anxiety and anticipation were off the roof for Satvika Mahajan, a candidate for the post of vice-president. She had contested last year as well and had been a member of the student council; the pressure — and the support she got from fellow students — kept her going. But not everyone who was part of this year’s JGU elections felt the same way.

In a community such as JGU, elections will always be intensely competitive. Some will gain the confidence of their fellow students — and the responsibility of representing them. Others will be disappointed in their ambitions to public office. It is the responsibility of not only the election commission and the candidates but the entire student body to ensure that the campaigning process does not become toxic and adversely affect the mental health of the candidates and the voters. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, famously said: “The government you elect is the government you deserve.” To vote for NOTA is easy enough; to stand for elections and to choose a responsible representative is tough. Which one do you prefer to do?