October 7th, 2016
“Extending voting rights to NRIs has been a long pending demand. With the government now in favour of implementing the same, it will be interesting to see if NRI voting can make an impact on elections.”
In January 2015, it was a historical milestone, when Government of India accepted the proposals made by Election Commission in response to the PIL by the members of Pravasi Bharat, a campaign group on NRI Voting rights.
The journey wasn’t smooth, though. The campaign that started in mid-2012 has gone through various phases like marching, demonstrations, petitions & hunger strike. The concrete result of extending voting rights to NRIs was the outcome of a Public Interest Litigation (WP(Civil) 80/2013) filed in the Supreme Court of India. A twelve(12) member committee was setup by the ECI based on the directions of the Supreme Court to study the feasibility of different options for voting by NRI voters. This 12-member committee was headed by the then Deputy Chief Election Commissioner Shri Vinod Zutshi. The committee studied various options of remote voting systems adopted worldwide and also sought inputs from all six national parties of India. The committee then submitted a 50 –page report to the Supreme Court, proposing e-postal & proxy voting as the recommended options.
The impact of this process of extending voting rights to NRIs is already visible. Political parties and governments seem to have started reaching out to the NRI community. Some states like Andhra Pradesh & Telangana have now set up special departments to look after NRI affairs. Few more states are expected to do the same. States like Uttar Pradesh organized their own Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. The ECI has also initiated online voter registrations for eligible NRIs.
NRIs are expected to play a bigger role in policy inputs and engagement with the state once they are extended voting rights. It will become a constituency that every political party would want to reach out to.
Will NRI Voting really make an impact?
There are approximately 10 million Indian citizens currently residing outside India as per the data compiled by the Ministry of External Affairs. Other estimates, such as from the British Tabloid Daily Mail puts this figure at about 25 million. Whatever be the actual number, NRIs do make up for one of, if not the largest diasporas in the world according to the UN Migration report in 2015.
These numbers have the potential to affect the election results if NRIs do vote in large numbers. With 10 million Indian citizens staying abroad, and with 543 Lok Sabha constituencies, it comes to an average of 18000 such voters per constituency. These additional votes, if polled, will have a significant impact on the result.
Annual Remittance by NRIs, highest in the world
Over the years, NRIs have excelled in various fields and brought laurels to India. NRIs also contribute to investment in the country by the way of remittances, accounting for over 3.4% of our country’s GDP. The remittances for 2015 reached $68.91 billion, which is the highest remittance contribution of any diaspora in the world as per the World Bank’s Migration & Remittances Data for 2015.