The role of the diaspora in Indian politics is not insignificant. According to a UN (United Nations’ Organization) report (2015), India boasts of the world’s largest diaspora population. However, in 2019, barely 1% of the 1.31 million eligible NRIs (non-resident Indians) registered to vote.
An amendment was enacted in the the Lok Sabha in 2018, to allow proxy voting in order to remedy the issue. However, it has since lapsed. From the perspective of the Indian political parties, diaspora support is crucial.
NRIs have the legal right to participate in India’s election process under Section 20A of the Representation of the People Act (1950). They hold Indian passports but live abroad and therefore, can vote in India, by presenting themselves to an electoral officer.
In my point of view, the political consequences of a country concern the citizens living inside the country, whereas NRIs carry no political responsibilities, nor do they have to bear the brunt of bad political choices within India.
As per facts, external voting is permitted in 115 nations around the world. Two-thirds of these countries allow people to vote from abroad. Among them, there are countries that demand a minimum number of registered voters.
For instance, Senegal’s threshold is very high: 500 is the minimum requirement for installing polling stations.
If these services are made available to NRIs, it is likely that only a small portion of the population will vote, based on global trends. The advantage of having a large NRI population would be unproductive, because only a small percentage of the population would actually vote.
In addition, the arduous procedure of installing polling stations will place a significant load on Indian embassies. In reality, India has one of the world’s most understaffed, diplomatic corps. As a result, ensuring a smooth and transparent voting procedure would be a burden on the officers.
It can be argued that mixed voting methods should be looked for as an alternative. Presently, 27 countries use mixed voting methods for external voting. And, it does not mean that it is the voter’s choice to choose from the different methods available to them.
It all depends on where they live and how reliable the voting systems are. As far as postal voting methods are concerned, only 25 countries have been using them.
Also, for many people, finding polling stations is a challenge. The diplomatic mission’s operating hours also prove to be an issue. Additionally, external voting is also hampered by a lack of cooperation from other countries.
Another concern is the cost of external voting; according to the Botswana case study, external budgets and costs of employing students and others to observe elections were prohibitively expensive.
Political interests that stand to gain from the NRIs’ voting techniques will strive for legitimisation. However, the question that must be addressed is whether allowing NRIs to vote will legitimise the democratic institution or weaken it by serving certain political objectives.
For instance, during the Yugoslav wars, Croatia took advantage of the nationalistic sentiments of Croats living abroad and approved an electoral statute allocating 12 external seats in parliament. As a result, it aided the administration in gaining a majority, though it was fiercely opposed.
In India, scrutiny of political effects would reveal that the Indian government and mainly right-wing political groups have been wooing the Indian diaspora in the US and the UK, and that too, the Hindu diaspora.
Although, it is well-established fact that Hindu right has an edge over the diaspora support, it does not mean that other communities do not have a common voice outside.
History narrates that after being prohibited during the emergency, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) began to mobilise outside of Europe, and by the time the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) came to power in 1988, they already had a formidable global network.
By looking at the case of Croatia, it is clear that allowing NRIs to vote would serve the current ruling government’s political goals.
Taking into consideration all the aspects and everything for a country like India, I believe that the expenses of allowing voting from abroad would not be an ideal situation. Thus, according to me, voting should be held in India only.