Many non-Resident Indians (NRIs), who came to their native places during the panchayat elections last year, particularly in the Doaba region, are giving the upcoming parliamentary election a miss.
Reason: The village-level elections hold much more excitement than the Lok Sabha polls for them.
“Many of their relatives are in the electoral fray or directly involved in the village-level elections whereas they have nothing at stake in the parliamentary polls. Having a sarpanch or panch in the family is still considered a big honour,” said Sukhpal Singh Khaira, former MLA from Bhulath.
He tells how there was hardly any NRI activity in the region which otherwise has a thick concentration of the expatriates.
“The NRIs do not mind spending money on panchayat elections for their family members and relatives. Some candidates even pay for the airfare to have their relatives canvass for them. But in the parliamentary elections no such interest is involved. Even an election enthusiast would prefer contributing in kind than flying down to campaign unless there are certain compulsion,” he said.
The Indian Overseas Congress (UK) president and co-chairman of Punjab Pardesh Congress’s NRI Cell, Daljit Singh Sahota, said 25-30 NRIs had arrived in the state for the Lok Sabha polls, acknowledging the fact that the enthusiasm of the village election was missing.
“Every vote counts during panchayat elections which is not the case in the Lok Sabha polls. The first generation Indians living abroad are particularly wired to their home town and connect with their family and friends back home if and when asked for,” he said. He claimed that NRIs contributed generously to the election fund of various candidates.
Parliament had approved voting rights for the NRIs by adopting the Representation of People (Amendment) Bill, 2010, but since the person is required to be present in the constituency on the polling day to exercise their franchise, most of the enrolled expatriate voters are going to let go this chance.
The Supreme Court has directed the Election Commission of India to explore the possibility of allowing NRIs to cast their votes from overseas. An NRI had filed a PIL in court contending that the mandate to be physically present at the polling booth was discriminatory and against the spirit of fundamental rights. The case is scheduled for hearing on April 11.
As per the the state election commission website, as many as 138 NRI voters are enrolled in 13 parliamentary constituencies of the state. Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Faridkot, Bathinda and Patiala have no NRI voter.