NRIs give mixed response to voting rights to them



London: India's move to allow millions of NRIs to exercise their voting rights has evoked mixed reaction from the community, with some of them describing it as a step in the right direction which will help them better connect to the country, while others calling 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.

DL 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."

Krishnamurthy Kumar, Convener of Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC), said it is a welcome step but it is not going to make any difference because most of the low-income and even middle-income Indians in the Gulf region cannot travel to India just to vote.

Manzar Imam, a Petrochem Engineer, asked how would allowing to vote in India help when procuring ID cards and ensuring name on voters' list is so difficult for NRIs?

"I know so many families who haven't yet received adequate documents merely because they travel to India only once and it is never sufficient to get their work done."

Suresh Kumar, a PR professional, said there was a time when a lot of people actually used to travel to Kerala during election time. "I am not sure that is still the case but I see this as a move towards rationalisation."

"In the absence of such a move, those votes that have been simply abandoned by NRIs may have been utilised as bogus votes. But I sincerely hope this leads to a stage wherein ballot boxes or EVMs are brought to different embassies and NRIs gather to vote as per their constituencies. That will be the real celebration of Indian democracy," he said.

Shabbir Rokadia, a businessman and ex-president of Gujarati Samaj, said he had been in the UAE for 43 years now and never voted all these years. "So I don't know how things will change for me. I am happy that the government has started to think about NRIs now but there is much more than just voting rights that they need. May be my children will be able to connect with India more than what my generation did."

Commenting on the new development, NIIT local head in Melbourne Sid Kaul, a permanent resident in Australia, said "this is a welcome measure albeit a half measure."

"While as this finally recognises the contribution of NRIs by allowing them to be part of the process, it does amount to a half measure as the NRIs can only vote if present in the country. This is a great first step and needs to be followed-up by allowing NRIs to vote at the country of residence. Let us also wait to see what election commission's notification details."

Yadu Singh, a leading cardiologist in Sydney and co-founder of National Council of Indian Australian (NCIA), said NRIs getting a voting right in India is a great idea but more needs to be done. "India should work towards granting a genuine dual citizenship with voting rights for people of Indian origin (PIO)."

Gautam Gupta, the spokesperson of Federation of Indian Student Association (FISA) in Australia, said "... this is a great news for all Indians overseas. During the student crisis (in Australia) one big thing that came out was the lack of voice for all these students. Many students were upset with the way issues were handled but they were effectively disenfranchised. Now they have a choice and say," he said.

"I hope that this initiative will be strengthened as we move forward and it will be excellent if everyone could vote irrespective of where they are," he said.

PTI