For the first time, non-resident Indians will be voting in the general elections. A total of 11,844 NRIs have enrolled via post for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but they will have to travel to their constituency to cast votes on the polling day.
Kerala accounts for the bulk of the NRI voters at 11,488, while Punjab with 138 and Tamil Nadu with 112 come a far second and third, respectively. NRI voter registration figures not only point to migration patterns but also indicate levels of political awareness. Uttar Pradesh, the state with the largest number of general voters, has no NRI voters.
“Kerala has a large migrant population in Gulf countries. Also, Keralites are politically aware and so many have registered to vote,” said UAE-based Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust chairman K V Shamsudheen.
Following the amendment of The Representation of the People Bill in 2010, citizens of India living abroad were given a chance to register as voters. As of May 2012, the ministry of overseas Indian affairs put the number of NRIs at more than a crore, and the overseas Indian community (which includes NRIs and people of Indian origin) at 2.5 crore.
An NRI is eligible to vote if he or she does not hold citizenship of any other country, according to the Election Commission rules. An NRI can vote in the constituency that is mentioned in his or her passport as the place of residence in India. The form to be filled and posted to the electoral registration officer of the constituency is available on the EC website. An NRI will get a letter or an SMS once his or her name is added to the rolls.
Though the forms and photocopies of supporting documents can be sent by post, an NRI has to appear in person to cast vote. Postal ballot, online voting or even polling in the local Indian missions are not an option.
“The government should allow us to vote in the Indian consulate or embassy or send our votes by post. It is not possible for 25 million NRIs to travel to their hometowns just to vote,” said a spokesperson for NRI Voting Rights, a forum of NRIs in the US.
“When we can register online, why not cast our votes online? The EC can introduce extra layers of checks and verification processes,” said Shamsudheen. “The government can make use of the details such as fingerprints and iris scans that we have already given for Aadhar registration so that we can vote from the place where we are working,” he said.
Smaller states seem to have more politically conscious citizens than larger ones. At least 56 citizens from Puducherry who are living in France have enrolled themselves, while 27 voters from Goa are on the rolls. New Delhi and Maharashtra have 13 NRI voters each, while the rest of the states have just one each.
“The Election Commission has made it easy for NRIs to register as voters by explaining on its website the procedure to be followed. The manner of voting has to be decided by the government and it may take time,” said an EC official.
Total No. of NRIs: 1 crore
Total No. of NRI voters: 11,844
Tamil Nadu: 112
New Delhi: 13