A longstanding wish of millions of NRIs for voting rights in India has come true with the Centre issuing a notification to this effect to enable them to exercise their franchise.
Parliament had in the monsoon session passed the Representation of People (Amendment) Bill, 2010 to allow NRIs to vote in Indian elections and now government has issued a gazette notification in this regard.
“Gazette notification has been issued giving voting rights to Non-Resident Indians,” Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told Lok Sabha in November.
An estimated 11 million NRIs are living in various countries across the world. However, the person will be able to exercise the franchise only if he or she is present in the constituency on the polling day.
Ravi said NRIs “who have not acquired citizenship of any other country and are living abroad owing to employment, education or otherwise, are now eligible to register their names in the electoral rolls” in their places as mentioned in their passport. He said the Election Commission is likely to soon finalise the rules and regulations prescribing modalities for entry of names of NRIs in electoral rolls.
The Government had decided to allow NRIs to participate in the democratic process to further boost the two-way engagement. As per the existing rules, an NRI’s name gets deleted from the voters’ list if he or she stays outside the country for more than six months at a stretch.
The new law will allow an Indian citizen residing abroad to enrol in voter’s list and exercise his franchise even if he or she remained away from place of residence in India for more than six months owing to employment, education or otherwise.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas earlier this year, had indicated that Indian passport holders living abroad could get voting rights by the time of next Lok Sabha elections in 2014.
Meanwhile, in mixed reactions, some NRIs have described the step as being in the right direction which will help them better connect to the country, while others dubbed it an incomplete measure.
Welcoming the recent issuance of a notification by the Indian government which for the first time allows the expatriates to vote, leading NRI industrialist Lord Swraj Paul here said that “it is a step in the right direction.”
Though “I am not personally affected, I am glad that Government has taken such a welcome move. It will help Indian passport holders to have better integration with people in India,” he said.
D L Kalhan, President of the Indian Overseas Congress in the UK who had campaigned for the measure, said the voting rights for NRIs was long overdue.
“I am happy that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Law Minister Veerappa Moily have fulfilled their promises. It will help a vast number of NRIs to actively participate in Indian elections,” he said.
Thomas Abraham, Founder President and Chairman Emeritus of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) in the US, welcomed the Indian government’s move.
“GOPIO has been campaigning on this issue for the last 21 years ... However, this is not enough. It would be very difficult for 11 million NRIs who are Indian citizens to travel to India during election time to exercise their vote. “Postal ballots or with the new technology, NRIs should be provided the opportunity to vote online. Alternately, there should be a few constituencies for NRIs in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies,” he said.
NRIs in the Gulf also gave a mixed response to the Indian government’s announcement of voting rights for them.
Sudesh Aggarwal, Chairman of India Trade and Exhibition Centre (ITEC), said “this will not make any major difference. I think this is just a game political parties are playing.”
“The reason is you have to be physically present in the country to vote. What is the big deal about that? ... If they want to help NRIs, they should reserve four seats for NRIs and let NRIs vote for NRIs worldover.
“Since population decides the number of seats, that criteria should be implemented here as well. If Anglo-Indians can have two parliament seats, why can’t NRIs be accommodated by extending the number of seats in the Parliament,” he said.
Sandeep Tirthwani, Business Educator at Free Enterprises said it is really exciting to learn that NRIs would be able to exercise their voting rights.
“NRIs are mostly peer class with high level of education and understanding. Having an additional 11 million people to vote would lead to better candidates selected to lead the country. It would give NRIs opportunity to do something for the country. It would also help the NRI community connect to India emotionally and ultimately motivate them to return to India.”
Punjab minister wants email ballot facility for NRIs
Punjab Education Minister and SAD Political Affairs Committee Member Sewa Singh Sekhwan Monday welcomed the Central notification granting voting rights to Non Resident Indians
(NRIs) and described it a historical decision aimed to involve million of NRIs in Indian polity.
He pointed out that more than 11 million Indians owing to employment, education or otherwise were living in different parts of the world and have not acquired citizenship of any other country and with this new notification they becomes eligible to register their names in the electoral rolls in their places as mentioned in their passport and would be able to exercise their franchise.
The Minister said that this decision would have a greater impact on Punjab as number of Punjabis’ were staying abroad and due to no voting rights till now, feels disheartened, especially, when they were here during elections. The Punjab government had taken up this issue with the Union government several times.
He demanded that the Election Commission, while finalizing the rules and regulations prescribing modalities for entry of names of NRIs in electoral rolls must explore the possibility for E.mail ballot rights to these NRIs also as it may not be physically possible for each NRI to visit his native place during elections..
|NRI Voting Rights team meets AP MPs
People For Loksatta (PFL) submitted a representation to Vijayawada MP Lagadapati Rajgopal and as well to Narsaraopet MP Venugopal Reddy regarding Absentee Voting for NRIs in person on the occasion of Andhra Pradesh state formation day event at Sunnyvale Temple in Bay Area.
Parliament had in the monsoon session passed the Representation of People (Amendment) Bill, 2010 to allow NRIs to vote in Indian elections and now the Indian Government has issued a gazette notification in this regard.
PFL strongly expressed their disappointment to MPs Rajgopal and Reddy about the Indian Government’s idea to ask NRIs to be present in the constituency on the polling day. There are around 2.5 crore Indians living outside India and it is practically impossible for eligible NRI voters to travel to India during election time. In order to make this Bill amendment meaningful, Government of India should seriously consider providing Absentee Voting facility to all NRIs so that NRIs can vote from anywhere in the world irrespective of demographic challenges. Roughly, in US itself 1 Million NRIs holding Indian passport would be eligible to vote in India (Students 200,000, H1-B holders from the last 5 years- 300,000, Green card holders 500,000).