Diaspora Gets Indian-ness and a Belonging with Voting Rights

Letter from New Delhi

Allowing Indian citizens to vote in Indian elections is certainly is welcome news for nearly ten million Indian citizens who live abroad, said Praful Patel, a noted NRI leader in Britain. “What the government could not do, the Supreme Court has delivered justice,” he added.

He went on, “The majority of the 10 million will definitely vote because they have close ties with India. It will increase bilateral relationship and apart from the huge FCRA/NRE deposits they send, they will be encouraged to participate in the economic development of our country. However, they have already made enormous contributions in towns, villages and rural areas where they have their homes by invisible investments. It brought prosperity to many regions in Kerala, Gujarat, Punjab and Tamil Nadu.”

“The migration from Kerala, Gujarat, Punjab and Tamil Nadu can make a lot of difference in a few of the key constituencies in these states from where the NRIs have gone. The Indian political parties will now target them as potential voters and, therefore, it will increase closer ties with India.

“So far, they haven’t participated much in elections, except having a scant knowledge about India, especially in the Middle East. It’s obvious that this will result in closer ties with Indian politics. Indian political parties will send delegations and even open their offices abroad to solicit support from these Indian Citizens,” said Praful Patel who attended the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conference just held.

Sanjay Kadia of the Overseas Friends of BJP UK wrote, “It’s a known fact that most Indians living outside India vote with a patriotic mind-set and support BJP’s motto of ‘India first’. This can now help in more BJP victories all over India, which translates to further development and growth for India, and less of Congress-style sycophancy and misrule.”

Omkar Nath Channan, a retired judicial officer in Canada, believes that overseas Indian voters will make very little difference in the results. Wealthy NRIs strive for recognition in India and they will get it by voting. It will further encourage party politics in their countries.

He commented, “India’s decision to allow NRIs to vote from abroad is in line with nationals of other countries living in Canada and USA. This move will increase very little interest in Indian politics. Their main object is to get maximum advantage or a pressure tool to make good of their investments in India.”

A Kenya Indian businessman, Amrit Shah, said, “We are very close to PM Modi and have supported him as Chief Minister of Gujarat where we come from. Now that we have got the vote, the Indian citizens in Kenya and East Africa will make a special effort to cast their vote.

“We visit Gujarat often and we have seen the development in our state. Now this development will cover all of India under Modi’s government and so we want to support it. Voting rights for NRIs will prompt leaders of all political parties to visit overseas Indians to attract their votes and so it will offer us more opportunities to meet them and discuss India’s progress and what they can promise and try to achieve,” he said.

A chartered accountant in Melbourne, Sudershan Gupta, maintains that Indian passport holding NRIs have been ignored too long as far as their say in Indian political scene was concerned. The right to vote will bring them back into the Indian mainstream. During the recent visits of PM Modi, NRIs have amply displayed their loyalty to India. They are up-to-date with main events in India. They will now be approached by politicians for their votes. So, they will oblige by voting in large numbers. However, NRIs will not be able to make a difference in an election result. But they may be heard in making a policy framework. At the local level, NRIs may not achieve much. But on a national level, political parties may be compelled to look after NRI interests to increase their chances of success. They would like NRIs to vote for their candidates. By voting in elections, NRIs will send more money to India as well to help their candidates and to develop their constituency since they have a stake in it.”

Voting in Indian elections gives the Indian Diaspora a sense of recognition that their cultural identity, and Indianness, is valued in India, said Chaman Lal Chaman, a veteran radio and TV broadcaster from London.

He said, “NRIs are finally getting their say through the ballot box. This is certainly very good news for overseas Indians who have always complained that their land of birth has turned its back on them. Previous governments have paid little or no attention to the calls by NRIs to be able to vote in Indian elections.

He said, “I don’t think they will vote in large numbers, my reasons lie in the EC’s conditions and procedures. Indian Diaspora voter can make a good difference in elections, especially in marginal seats. Regional, cultural and religious loyalties relating to the choice of a candidate can influence the result. For instance, if a candidate happens to be from a certain village, NRIs of that village and surrounding areas are more likely to support that candidate not only by voting for him but also by sending cash and campaigning for him in their country of residence.

“NRIs have been following Indian elections mostly through electronic and print media. Asian radio and TV channels and papers have been providing ample coverage. Some NRIs have been visiting India during elections and helping candidates in their election campaigns with their presence and financial support according to their loyalty and self-interest. This has been observed in Punjab in the past when NRIs were not even to vote. Now this will gather momentum,” he said.

“E-ballot procedure seems to be a preferable choice but the condition of applying six months before the expiry of the House will discourage a lot of eligible voters. The procedure seems to be rather cumbersome and bureaucratic. This does not encourage NRIs to vote in large numbers in the UK as they are so used to simple British procedure. Here, all Commonwealth citizens can just go to a polling station and cast their vote. In most cases, no one is even asked to produce a proof of identity. The Indian procedure denies this simplicity and convenience to which NRIs are so much used to. Recent arrivals of NRIs are more likely to vote,” he added.

Shamlal Puri, a London-based senior journalist and author, commented, “By casting their votes NRIs will feel closer to India because many of them have complained that the fact they are living and earning their broad and butter abroad should not disqualify them from exercising their rights to have a say in the affairs of their land of birth or ancestors.

“In places like the UK, many NRIs complain of discrimination and being side-lined by the British. You hear heard comments like “hum log na idhar ke, na udhar ke” (We are neither Britons nor Indians). They complained that when visiting India, Indians call them British and when they come to Britain, Britons call them Indians! So, the voting rights give NRIs a sense of belonging.

“There are many good reasons for them to vote in large numbers. They feel their votes can make some difference. There are many NRIs who have savings or business interests in India and their votes will go some way in protecting their interests – though this is a long shot.

“In NRI gatherings, the talk is always about how ‘rotten’ the system is in India. They often narrate heartbreak stories of how the system let them down and how the legal system had denied them justice. They may raise their voice against these ills and probably help the custodians to wake up and smell the coffee before investors take their investments to other countries.

“Indians living abroad are, frankly, by-standers who remain on the side-lines criticising the system; now this move will give them a chance to participate actively. It will get rid of their apathy.

“NRIs have always taken interest in Indian politics by watching Indian news channels in the UK but what they learn from there has been confined to discussions at social gatherings. If there had been apathy among them, there would be no takers for Indian channels here which, these days, are offered as standard fare in TV packages provided by the likes of SKY or Virgin, among others.

“They can make a difference if they vote in big numbers and there is no voter apathy,” Shamlal Puri said,” “Ten million votes could make a difference in the election results and help boot out the undeserving candidates.”

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi


* Published in print edition on 23 January  2015

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