In South India, an artist couple is scaling the parameter of innovative campaigns a notch higher, with their one-of-a-kind campaign that urges voters to opt for NOTA (None of The Above) option in the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), if they find none of the candidates worthy. Titled ‘Missing Honest Politicians’, the campaign by Hyderabad-based artist couple Swathi and Vijay highlights the absence of honest leaders in the present political scenario of India. They started the campaign a few weeks before in and around Hyderabad, and later ventured into parts of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra as well.
The ‘Missing Honest Politicians’ campaign
For Telangana, where polling starts from April 11, Swathi and Vijay’s message reads:
“Note: Persons having no information concerning this are requested to think of NOTA and report at your polling booth on 11th April 2019.”
The message is accompanied with the headline ‘Missing Honest Politicians’ in bold capital letters, and consists of the hashtag #findhonestpoliticians. The message alters according to the polling dates for different constituencies, but the main narrative remains the same.
Where are the honest politicians?
Speaking to Efforts For Good, Vijay clarifies, “As citizens, most of us are aware of the dwindling scale of honesty for most politicians, irrespective of which part he or she belongs to. What we wish to ask the people is to not waste their vote. We are not outrightly saying to go straight for NOTA, but to avail that option in case the voter fails to find any of the candidates just, honest and faithful.”
The artist duo had previously turned heads in the recent past with their bold graffiti where the vote button in the polling booth was depicted as the flush button on a commode, signifying how thoughtless voting is actually a precious opportunity gone down the drain.
“People often find none of the electoral candidates worthy, yet they either settle for one of them randomly or worse, they skip voting. We are trying to build the idea that casting their vote is indeed a necessity for every citizen. In that context, if the democracy is allowing you an option to reject all the candidates, then definitely you should cast an honest vote in NOTA if you are displeased with all your local leaders,” explains Vijay.
Why NOTA? Why not?
The general misconstrued notion about NOTA that prevails among voters is that voting for NOTA is actually wasting a vote. But Swathi and Vijay feel that it is still a better instrument of democracy than going for a candidate with a known shady background. He elaborates, “We got independence after 200 years of struggle. So, it is obvious that the results of voting for NOTA would not emerge into prominence instantly. But, that sends a message to the authorities that the people are rejecting the present prospective lawmakers. In future, this may pave the way for a law that excludes dishonest candidates from contesting the election.”
So far, the artist duo has not faced any major political or administrative objection seeking to curb their creative freedom. They are happy with the positive and curious response they are receiving from the public, which is why they have now elevated their campaign with interactive lectures and other modes of raising mass awareness. “But, one thing is for sure, we have managed to initiate candid political conversations among the public,” shares Vijay.
Efforts For Good take
Till a few years ago, politicians with convicted criminal records would continue to enjoy parliamentary and legislature seats and associated privileges. However, Kerala lawyer Lily Thomas’ nine-year-long fight finally culminated in an amendment of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, thereby barring such politicians from being MLAs and MPs.
A similar logic holds true in Swathi and Vijay’s appeal. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, over 60 lakh voters went for the NOTA button, clearly showing their disapproval of the political scene in their respective territories. While voting for NOTA might not magically transform Indian politics into a utopia devoid of corruption, it might actually prompt the political parties to reconsider their candidates and think more of what people actually seek in their leaders.