The ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’ adage took on a whole new meaning on Sunday, when the media -- the Sunday Times, no less -- ‘discovered’ the embattled UB group chairman Vijay Mallya’s name in UK’s electoral rolls.
But they needn’t have exploded in a frenzy. It is not unusual. In fact, it is commonplace.
If you want to know how easy it is to get to vote in the UK, I can tell you. I had one too. As a former resident of our former British masters’ home (between late 2008 and early 2011) I got to vote in the 2010 local council and Parliamentary election. It was the same election in which Labour’s Gordon Brown lost to Tory leader David Cameron, who joined hands with the Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg to form a coalition government. After more than three decades of Labour. And yes, I voted for the losers. (I stayed away from the ballot box in 2014 General Election in India hoping Narendra Modi’s anticipated victory will not be spoiled by my vote.)
Migrants into the UK from 55 Commonwealth countries share this unique honour with Vijay Mallya. According to official numbers, there are nearly a million such voters in the UK, more than a fourth of them Indians (266,000-odd in 2011). The other big chunks come from around the same region -- 130,000 Pakistani nationals, 51,000 Bangladeshis and 37,000 Sri Lankans.
With 2.3 billion Commonwealth citizens around world, every third person on the planet is technically qualified to vote in the UK elections if they decide to move there tomorrow. That is how absurdly commonplace it is find one Vijay Mallya on the list of voters.
What makes this situation particularly piquant is that this is a non-reciprocal privilege. British nationals who are living and working in Commonwealth nations, including India, don’t get to participate in elections there.
The arrangement is an irksome subject in the UK, particularly for those who believe that the migrant population can dent the UK parliamentary elections’ outcome.
Ahead of the 2015 general elections, Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch think-tank, demanded this situation be reviewed. The rules were an ‘anachronism’ from the days of Empire and should be scrapped, he said, as he has been arguing for years.
Daily Mail newspaper quoted Green as saying: “If the next election is close, and especially if there is a coalition negotiation, the number of seats gained by each party will be critical, so the outcome could be significantly influenced by a group of people who have not yet qualified to become British citizens or have not even bothered to do so. One example is that a student visitor from a Commonwealth country planning to study for six months would be allowed to enrol on the electoral register and vote in a parliamentary election if one was held during the duration of his or her stay. This is clearly absurd. The issue is one of basic fairness. If people want to participate in deciding the future of our country they should at least become citizens.”
Green might have a point here, though Mallya may not be bothered to even cast his vote.