The year 2018 is expected to shape the 21st century India as those who born in the new millennium started turning 18 already. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too believes that Gen Y will shape the vision of a ‘new India’. Politically, the New Year assumes more prominence because of the mini-general elections scheduled for eight states including Karnataka. Besides, the major political parties of the country will now begin rigorous campaign for the 2019 general elections wherein Indians will have to make a choice between status quo and change.
A good news for around 30 million Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) is that the union government of India in recent months has shown great interest in upholding the voting rights of Indian Diaspora whose annual remittance account for around 4% of the country’s GDP. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s recent assurance of making amendments to the age-old Representation of People Act in order to allow NRIs to exercise their franchise without visiting the country gains political significance as it preludes a series of Assembly polls as well as the next year’s Lok Sabha polls.
However, the government should not forget to take the widespread Indian Diaspora into confidence before amending the Act. The Centre’s inclination towards proxy voting system for NRIs rather than making arrangements for direct voting in the age of digital India is indeed a matter of concern for the helpless expatriates. On the other hand, the Centre appears to be unnecessarily seriously considering the voting right demand of the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) who relinquished Indian nationality to formally become the citizens of various developed countries.
Experts genuinely fear that the proxy voting may lead to gross electoral abuse, especially in regions like coastal Karnataka and Kerala from where hundreds of thousands of people have flown into other countries in past few decades. The proxy system which authorises the kin of NRIs to cast the vote on behalf of formers may also help the dominant and wealthy parties to purchase votes from the nominees. Making foolproof arrangements is almost impossible for the Election Commission of India in the outdated proxy voting.
Since its launch on January 1, 2010, coastaldigest.com has been campaigning for the materialisation of NRIs dream of directly participating in Indian elections through e-voting from their workplaces. While proxy voting may facilitate manipulations, keeping Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the Indian embassies would be a burden for both NRIs and officials. The Election Commission of India would have to evolve a mechanism to ensure NRIs cast their franchise through secret ballot online rather than forcing them to announce their allegiance to a candidate or party.
While congratulating the government of India for deciding to take small a step towards full democratic empowerment of NRIs, we exhort it not to exclude the Indian Diaspora from the dream of digital India. In order to create awareness among NRIs about their rights and exert pressure on the government to implement e-voting system, coastaldigest.com would also host an NRI conclave in the Middle East this year. The date will be announced within weeks.
The author is the founder and patron of coastaldigest.com
Let 2018 bring e-voting rights to NRIs