Voting rights to NRIs

Published on Feb 28 2011 - - Expat Ride - -

– Mohammed Saifuddin, Yahind.com

With the passage of Representation of People (Amendment) Bill 2010 in the parliament and subsequent publication of the Gazette Notification, around 11 million NRIs spread across the globe has got the franchising power and they are now able to participate in voting process to select their representatives in assemblies and parliament.
The batch of NRIs from Tamilnadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Pondicherry will be first group to cast their vote. They will get this opportunity as soon as in May when the elections of the above states are scheduled. For the first time, NRIs will have their say in deciding the fate of 824 MLAs from the above mentioned 5 Indian states. Till now, no person could be on the voters’ list if he or she was outside India continuously for more than six months. On February 4, the Centre notified rules allowing NRIs, who fulfill certain criteria, to vote in elections in India.

The above announcement came in following the Prime Minister’s promise last year. He assured the Indian passport holders living abroad to give them voting rights while addressing the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.
Under the revised rules, NRIs holding Indian passports, who have not acquired or applied for citizenship of another country, and who satisfy the electoral officer of the area/locality cited as address in his passport, will be allowed to vote in elections in India.

The Indian passport holders living abroad should fill the form 6A and send it to the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) of the constituency of his/her residence in India. Moreover the NRIs should physically present in their constituency on the day of polling to cast their vote.

The Indian diplomatic missions in different countries have already uploaded the form 6A on their websites along with the notifications from the respective state election commissions where the elections are due in May. The NRIs have to download the form and send it to the concerned ERO. The address of EROs for all the constituencies is available on the web site of the Election Commission of India.

Initially the registration process will be manual, where the NRIs have to download the form from the internet, fill it and sent it along with required documents to the concerned ERO. Automation of this process could be possible in future as Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi was quoted as saying that the process of making online enrollment of NRIs in the voter list will be finalized and after which NRIs will be able to register as voters through the web site of the Indian government.

A separate electoral roll will be prepared by the commission for the NRIs, though their process of voting will be exactly the same as ordinary voters.

It is indeed a welcome step to involve NRIs in Indian political framework. It is a healthy step which will help in strengthening the democracy in India. Irrespective of whether the NRIs will cast the vote or not, the new rules will definitely benefit those who have political aspirations. According to the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, a person eligible to vote in a constituency is also eligible to contest from that constituency. Since the new rules are silent on this count, it means that NRIs would also be allowed to contest election.

Some states have a large number of citizens living abroad and rich NRIs from such these states having political ambitions will definitely take this opportunity as a hot cake and contest the polls. According to columnist Moiz Mannan “in states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Gujarat there are entire districts that boast of “every home” having at least one member abroad. Many of these NRIs have political ambitions and the money and influence to fulfill them. So far, the only impediment in their path was the restrictions on NRIs getting enrolled in the voters’ lists.”

Now the main question will be that how many NRIs will actually be interested to travel all the way to their native place, just to cast their vote. Practically, it will be almost impossible for many to participate in polling. The polling ratio of the NRIs is expected to be very low. Very few of them would actually cast their vote. Precisely speaking, only those NRIs are expected participate in elections whose vacation coincides with the election dates.

Several NRIs think that the voting rights conferred upon them are meaningless as no one will spend the hefty expenses and time to travel all the way to India, just to cast their vote. Rather, elaborate arrangements should be made to facilitate them to cast their vote at the place of their residence through postal ballots.

The May elections for the five assemblies will boost new enthusiasm among NRIs after which the picture will be clear about how NRIs react to this new opportunity. But the demand of Punjab’s Education Minister Sewa Singh Sekhwan is also very important who demanded that the possibility of email balloting should be explored as it may not be possible for each NRI to physically visit his native place during elections.

Election Commission of India (ECI) should consider providing the polling facility for NRIs in foreign countries. Possibilities of postal ballots or voting at Indian missions can be explored. The Conduct of Elections Rules 1961 confer the rights of postal voting to some special groups of people like Security and Armed Forces, policemen serving outside their state, staff on election duty outside the place of their residence, and diplomatic staff. These rules could be amended to expand the coverage and inclusion of NRIs for postal voting.

The NRIs from Tamilnadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Pondicherry will have an opportunity to cast their vote in the polling for respective legislative assemblies scheduled in May. To enroll their names in the electoral roll, they have to send the filled in form 6A “Application for inclusion of name in electoral roll by an overseas elector” to their respective Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) along with the copy of the passport. The form should be attested by competent official at the Indian mission.

Indian diplomatic missions in several countries have started providing these forms on their websites. In Saudi Arabia, the form along with the guidelines is available on web site of the Consulate General of India, Jeddah www.cgijeddah.com

The site also contains the notifications for registration of Indian passport holders issued by the Chief Electoral Officers of the five states where the elections are due in May. All the information related to the electoral registration of NRIs can be obtained from the web site Consul General of India, Jeddah.

– Yahind.com

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