Their vociferous demands for getting the voting rights apart, the non-resident Indians (NRIs) seem not so keen on exercising the franchise . The ongoing assembly elections are the first since the NRIs have got the voting rights.
Records show just 8,835 (including 321 female voters) have registered for voting in Kerala. While none has registered in Tamil Nadu, Bengal has a lone NRI voter in the Behala Paschim assembly seat who is from Muscat, Oman.
Kerala has an NRI population of over 2.1 million while Tamil Nadu has over 1.5 million. There is no ball-park figure available for the total number of NRIs from Bengal.
According to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010, every Indian citizen who has completed 18 years of age as on January 1 of the year, holds an Indian passport and has not acquired the citizenship of another country is eligible to apply for registration in the electoral rolls.
This can be for the constituency in which his or her place of residence is located as mentioned in the passport.
He or she has to be physically present in the voting stations in the constituency also.
Government officials point out that since this is the first time NRIs getting voting rights, low registration of voters this time cannot be taken as a yardstick.
But there being no facility of voting outside the country, and many NRIs who are low-income group workers being unable to bear expenses for coming to India to vote, seem to have come as dampeners.
“Many voters come in the category of workers. Who will foot their travel bills? Then, people from Kerala constitute majority in many offices in Gulf countries, who will give them en masse leave?” ask S Irudaya Rajan of Centre of Development Studies in Thiruvanamthapuram, who is also a consultant with ministry of overseas affairs.
“Parliament enacted this law in November last year, and the voting is in April-May. So, one has to take into account the short-time that was available for the NRIs to complete the process,” reasons a government official
As of now NRI voters will have to submit the application directly to the electoral registration officer of the constituency.