Overseas Britons have the right to choose governments back home. So do the Americans and the Germans. Now Indians living abroad want the right to vote from abroad.
On Friday, the Non Resident Indians will start a campaign to push the Indian government to provide them special ballot voting right, beginning with NRIs in Britain who will demonstrate outside the Indian High Commission in London.
“Our next stop would be Washington DC,” said Nagender Chindam, who runs an IT firm based in London and founder, Pravasi Bharat.
The Indian government has last year allowed NRIs to vote by amending the Representation of People’s Act but for that they have to be in their respective constituencies on the voting day to employ their franchise.
The rule, Pravasi Bharat the group campaigning for NRI voting rights says, is deterrent for the over seven million Indians living abroad constrained from travelling to their constituencies for that particular day.
“As citizens of India and valid voters there, we are eager to be part of our highest democratic decision. As it would be practically impossible for the seven million Indians abroad to travel and be in India on the day we request the government to allow us the special ballot voting rights,” Chindam said.
The campaign that went online (www.pravasbharat.org and Pravasi Bharat on facebook) would submit a petition to the Election Commission and Indian government through the high commission on Friday. It also plans demonstrations in US and is appealing NRIs in Gulf countries to send their request letters to nearest embassies.
“Special ballot voting would contribute to a mature voting as all of us here are highly educated professionals like doctors, engineers who share a common and serious concern for development of India,” Dr Naresh Hanchate, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, Seattle, USA and a core member says.
While such provision requires an amendment in the law election commission officials point such voting as fraught with practical challenges like confirming NRI voters before every election and ensure they receive the ballot papers by Election Day. “It is not impossible but is highly difficult a process,” SK Mendiratta, legal advisor, Election Commission said.
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.
Election Commission figures show that just over a 10, 000 NRIs have registered are voters so far - an abysmal number compared to the Indians abroad. In Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Manipur – states that went to polls after allowing NRI voting in 2011 not a single vote was cast. In Goa and West Bengal, one NRI each cast their vote.