Overseas Indians are not affected so much by government policies and political decisions in India as people here, points out Prof Jagdeep S Chhokar, founding Trustee of the Association for Democratic Reforms, while reacting to the cabinet approval to allow NRIs to vote by proxy.
So far, the Non-resident Indians who were given voting rights by the UPA Government, had to visit India and be physically present to cast their ballots. But the Modi Government now plans to empower them so that their voting right could be exercised by someone here in India but authorised by them from abroad.
“This is not a good idea. It reflects the misplaced priorities of the government. We’ve a sizeable number of migrant labourers who can’t participate in elections because of complex rules. For instance, if a labourer from Samastipur in Bihar works in Punjab, he can’t go back to Samastipur where he is registered as a voter, to exercise his franchise for various reasons.” And often it is not possible for him to register as a voter in Punjab because of the lack of residence-proof etc.
Instead of spending time, effort and money to enable NRIs in US and Europe to participate in elections here, the government should empower those who have been toiling on Indian soil, he added.
A spokesman of the US Embassy in Delhi confirmed that overseas Americans are required to reach US diplomatic missions and cast their ballots in the ballot boxes put there. The US had no system of proxy voting, he informed.
In approving proxy voting to an estimated 10 million NRI population ( 16 and 25 million according to other estimates), the Union cabinet has not only defied recommendations of the Election Commission but also ignored the need of a much larger migrant population of Indians within the country.
The possibility of misuse is highlighted by several armed force personnel NH spoke to, who denied any knowledge of postal ballots available to them. Some of these jawans, one about to retire, claimed that they have never exercised their right to franchise and they were not aware if commanding officers of units received ballot papers on their behalf.
Naik Ajeet Kumar (name changed), a JAKLI jawan who is on the verge of retirement, has never exercised his voting franchise during assembly or parliamentary elections during his postings even in peace stations.
In 2014, the Election Commission of India permitted Army, Navy and Indian Air Force personnel to exercise right to franchise at their place of posting like ordinary residents of that constituency.
Ajeet adds that there are many other armed forces personnel like him who are not aware of facilities like postal ballots.
Many social media users have reacted to the cabinet approval. Here’s a collection of twitter reactions: