ByÂ Digant Kapoor:
India rightly prides itself for being the largest democracy in the world. The core essence of a democracy is that its citizens have the right to participate in the selection of their leaders in the form of voting. While every country has a myriad of issues that demand attention, given the upcoming general elections, NRI communities around the world are beginning to demand that Indian authorities respond to their desire to be able to vote. As of May 2012, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs estimated that over 10 million Indian nationals live abroad.
In 2010, the government passed the “Representation of the people (Amendment) Act — 2010,” which enabled NRIs to vote in the Parliamentary and Assembly elections. Prior to this amendment, Indians living abroad, including students, were not eligible to vote. While this was a major success for the NRI community, it had one major shortcoming. NRIs would have to be physically present in India to vote. If all flights were fully booked by Indians, only 5 lakh people would make it to India in 45 days(the time elections are declared and held). Thus, “the NRI Voting Right is NEGATED without resources in place”. The graphic below illustrates the problem.
“As of now, the only votes from abroad are those of the Indian mission officials. While defence personnel are allowed to vote proxy, government officials on election duty could use postal ballot” (Hindustan Times). Given the advancement of technologies, several democratic countries have established the infrastructure to enable their overseas populations to vote either by postal ballot or through online voting (the advantages and disadvantages of a postal ballot and internet voting can be found here). These include (but are not limited to) Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Egypt, the Philippines, the United States of America and the United Kingdom. In fact, the Sudanese and South Sudanese Diasporas could vote during the 2011 Sudanese referendum. This list shows that countries from all development levels are capable of successfully implementing the infrastructure required to allow their nationals who live abroad to participate in their national duty.
Prime Minister Singh has admitted that the NRI community’s demand for absentee ballots is a “legitimate desire,” but the Ministry for Overseas Indian Affairs declared in 2011 that it had no specific plans “to introduce online voting or postal balloting for NRIs, and that the Election Commission would have to decide when and how to proceed on this matter” (Pravasi Bharat).
In October 2012, Pravasi Bharat led a march to put pressure on the Indian authorities to respond. The organization is also appealing to the Prime Minister through the Indian High Commission via an online petition. Unfortunately the petition garnered only 461 signatures, as awareness among the NRI community is low regarding their ability to vote. I chose to write on this topic in the hopes that Indian youth will inform their friends and relatives living abroad about this pressing issue. India cannot legitimately pride itself on being a democracy while depriving over 10 million of its citizens the vote.