The government has proposed a bill in Parliament to amend Section 20 of the 1950 Representation of People’s Act.
|The Indian government is reportedly exploring proposals to allow millions of non resident Indians (NRIs) to vote in the 2014 general elections. In a speech at the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in January 2010, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged NRI appeals for voting parity: “I recognize the legitimate desire of Indians living abroad to exercise their franchise and to have a say in who governs India. We are working on this issue and I sincerely hope that they will get a chance to vote by the time of the next regular general elections.” |
The government has proposed a bill in Parliament to amend Section 20 of the 1950 Representation of People’s Act, which presently strikes out from the voter rolls the names of overseas Indians who have been out of the country for more than six months. Under the bill, such names would no longer be deleted from voter lists. NRIs would thus be able to vote in the constituencies they were registered before leaving India.
Presently, only soldiers and diplomats are permitted postal ballots in India and any attempt to extend such balloting to NRIs will no doubt lead to demands to expand it to residents in India as well, which would be wildly expensive and logistically onerous for the Indian Election Commission, which is charged with managing the world’s largest electoral exercise.
The United States and many other countries have long permitted their overseas citizens to vote in general elections and primaries, so they offer valuable experiences from which the Indian election commission can draw. For instance, U.S. embassies and consulates do not serve as voting centers for overseas citizens, although they facilitate U.S. nationals in completing absentee ballot request forms as well as witnessing, notarizing or mailing in their election materials.
The Indian Election Commission operates autonomously from the government and the impartiality of Indian embassies and consulates in foreign countries, which are under the jurisdiction of the executive branch, would likely raise apprehensions among commission members. So any proposal to allow overseas Indians to vote at Indian missions abroad is unlikely to fly.
A postal absentee ballot system is far more promising and has worked effectively for America for decades. Under U.S. law, the “legal state of residence” for voting purposes is defined as the state where the individual last resided immediately prior to his departure from the United States, even if he no longer maintains any ties nor intends to return to it. U.S. citizens living overseas can request their absentee ballots with a common form — The Federal Post Card Application — which is accepted in all jurisdictions and available from U.S. missions overseas or the Federal Voter Assistance Program, administered by the Secretary of Defense.
The proposal to expand voting rights to Indian passport holders living abroad is a welcome development on India’s 63rd Independence Day. We hope that the plan is not emasculated as it winds its way through India’s notorious bureaucratic maze, as dual citizenship for overseas Indians was nearly a decade earlier.