in focus: Beyond borders Kerala

Voting right for NRIs remains a pipe dream

The aspiration of about 3.1 crore Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), including Keralites, scattered across the world to become an integral part of the great electoral exercise in the country will not materialise this time as well.

The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill passed by the Lok Sabha to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1950 to give voting rights to NRIs on August 9, 2018 is awaiting the Rajya Sabha nod.

The Centre had hailed the passage of the Bill as a ‘momentous event’, but neither the Central Election Commission nor the government had seriously gauged the practical issues and the serious bearing it would have on the secret ballot system in vogue. The passage of the Bill is being construed as a deft political move to assuage the sentiments of the huge NRI population after being aware of the ramifications in opting a system that is ridden with legal and practical challenges.

All political parties are sceptic about the impact of the NRI votes, mainly on how it will affect their fortunes and hence are not keen on taking the plunge before assessing its real outcome.

The CPI(M), the Congress, the BJP and the Indian Union Muslim League have their active presence in different countries, mainly the Gulf. Their camp followers function in the name of cultural organisations and most of them mobilise their cadre to return home and cast their votes. But these are stray efforts and so far do not have a decisive say in tilting the scales.

None has so far reviewed the impact of a total involvement of NRIs in the elections and hence cannot forsee its result. Hence, political parties tend to tread cautiously in this regard

When the issue of NRI voting came up for discussion, the commission and the government are reported to have explored the proxy and online voting system. The French government’s practice of keeping a box in Mahe for the French citizens there to vote in the Presidential elections and a ballot box at the Russian Culture Centre in Thiruvanvanthapuram during elections there were cited as examples for similar facilities for the NRIs.

Since the number of candidates in a presidential election is limited, exercising franchise is simple and easy. Given the plurality of Indian democracy, a legion of candidates contesting the election and the way how Indians remain scattered across the world, this experiment was found unviable.

Online voting

A proposal for online voting too was shelved in view of its complexities. The government and the commission ultimately zeroed in on proxy voting as a viable option without seriously evaluating the hidden dangers and legal ramifications.

According to UAE-based Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust chairman K.V. Shamsudeen, the Supreme Court favoured NRI participation in the election after several groups moved the court against the Centre. Only less than 12,000 NRIs had cast their votes in the 2014 elections.

The Centre should permit the NRIs to obtain Aadhaar card and link it with the poll roll so that the Election Commission can create an online voting system with biometric identification facility. “Unfortunately, political parties have rejected this demand, ” he said.

Proxy voting

If an NRI deputes a proxy to cast the vote on his/her behalf, the secrecy of ballot will become questionable. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the proxy would cast the vote as per his/her desire. The Voter Verified Paper Trail is being cited as a solution to the issue, but verification of vote involves a lot of procedures and is not easy either. Setting up booths across the world in Indian embassies too is not feasible. Deployment of officials and security is a major challenge. That again means that NRI voting would continue to be a pipe dream and may not materialise even before the next general elections.

(With inputs from

Biju Govind)

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Printable version | Aug 11, 2020 10:23:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/voting-right-for-nris-remains-a-pipe-dream/article26722201.ece

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