NRIs jubilant about voting in Indian elections

Abu Dhabi resident who fought successful legal battle says NRIs in Gulf will attract more attention from political class

Abu Dhabi: The Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in the UAE are jubilant about the immediate prospect of voting in Indian elections after India initiated the first step of legislation for this purpose on Thursday.

The Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, on Thursday passed a bill that proposes to amend the existing electoral law, which will allow NRIs to appoint proxies to cast their votes in the elections to parliament and state assemblies.

Replying to the debate on the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2017, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said it was a “momentous event” and a big opportunity was being given to NRIs, according to an IANS report from New Delhi.

He said the constitution makers had given the right to vote to all Indians and, therefore, the NRIs also had the right. “Let us not deride the contribution of NRIs. They have made a place for themselves by their hard work. Their commitment to India is truly remarkable,” Prasad said.

Responding to the apprehension of some members that the proxy provision can be misused, he said rules will be made in such a way that if law is flouted, it will lead to the cancellation of the vote.

About the suggestion for introducing e-voting, Prasad said there are a lot of difficulties in it and more advancement in technology will be needed to make a secure architecture, said the IANS report.

The bill has to be passed by the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, and approved by the President of India. Currently, NRIs can vote if they are present in their constituencies on the day of voting.

A prominent Abu Dhabi-based Indian businessman, who fought a successful legal battle for this cause in the Indian Supreme Court, told Gulf News he hoped that NRIs could vote in the 2019 parliament elections.

Advocate Haris Beeran, who appeared for Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, chairman and managing director of VPS Healthcare, at the Supreme Court, said the bill’s fate would be known on Friday, the last day of the monsoon session of parliament. “If the Rajya Sabha does not take it up on Friday, we have to wait until the winter session of parliament in November; still NRI voting in 2019 parliament elections is possible because the election commission had told the court that they could make the arrangements three months after passing the law. It means the commission can still do it by February [as elections are expected in May 2019],” he said on phone from New Delhi.

Dr Vayalil said the voting right will help the NRIs in the Gulf get more attention from the Indian government and political class as they become a vote bank. “This will naturally reflect on India’s relations with Gulf nations, leading to further improvement in bilateral relations,” he said.

Annu Chouraria, president of Indian Ladies Association in Abu Dhabi, said the voting right will make Indian expats feel more connected to their homeland. “Getting a chance to participate in the political process while living abroad is a great opportunity. All NRIs will welcome this with a jubilant mood,” she said.

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