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While NRIs in this region are delighted over the proxy vote, they next want representation in both Houses of parliament

~By Bikram Vohra in Dubai

The relationship between NRIs and their home country has not been a happy one. Based on suspicion, distrust and a sense of envy on one side and contempt on the other (highly interchangeable), the chasm has widened with great help from the corrosive indifference of the political firmament, shunning by the media and negative feed to public perception. In return, tangible arrogance is used by the NRI as a defense mechanism against the hostility he perceives on the home front.

Much of the peaks in these misunderstandings are due to NRIs feeling let down and this can be directly connected to their not being a vote bank. Between those Bharati Divas circuses, the many visits by Indian VIPs and the shibboleths and sermon waters they toss back before doing their shopping and collecting gifts, the deceit and hypocrisy and the litter of broken promises have left NRIs disconsolate.

Even the clumsy effort made to give the right of franchise two years ago was comical because they had to come in person to cast their vote. Of the 32 million Indians living abroad in every continent and impacting the world, only 10,000 made it for the general election and that was also because their visit probably coincided with vote day. Against this and keeping in mind that 70 percent of Indians in the Gulf are labour and travel home once in 24 months on an average, made the concession almost insulting.

On August 3, the right to vote by proxy was granted by parliament to 11 million NRIs eligible to vote. There is a slice of irony in this. According to the constitution, there is only one category of Indian citizen. So, really only an anomaly that has survived 70 years is being corrected. Well-known businessman and NRI spearhead Ram Buxani told India Legal: “This should have been granted long ago. If people in jail have the right to franchise, why not NRIs? I am glad it has been given now but the logical sequence should follow by way of representation of NRIs in both Houses. After all we brought home over $235 billion in remittances in the past three years.”

BR Shetty, owner of the NMC Healthcare, expressed his delight over the government’s move and said that with Indians abroad creating a vote bank, there would be an infusion of investment in India as state governments make greater efforts to woo foreign-based Indians. Shetty is currently building a major medical facility in Amravati and is also the chairman of 700 units of the UAE Exchange.

As Indians now do not have to fly back to cast a vote, even the hardworking labourer finally has a say in his nation’s destiny. Biswajit and Farukh who work as drivers in the construction industry told India Legal during their lunch break that they would wish to vote in 2019.

But they expressed concern that unless they were tutored on how to obtain the form, fill, sign and post it to the right address, most of their kin would lose out. “They must not make the procedures difficult,” said Biswajit. “We do not have the time to stand in lines and get forms and go through all that proof jhamela (hassle).”

Nirmal Anand, a well-known movie distributor in the region who has business interests in India, said he believes that all people of Indian origin who pay taxes should be allowed a vote. “It will create a more close-knit global community,” he stressed.

Generally received with delight, the voting right process is also of concern to many. They worry that the postal option may go awry and transparency could be an issue. But at least things are looking up.

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