As the world’s largest democracy sets on course to choose its leader and his entourage for the next five years, 2014 General elections of India saw a wave of storm in the form of NRI voting right issue at its pretext. EC enabling the NRIs to register for vote for the first time while not giving any external voting option (person needs to be physically present in his/her constituency on the polling day), PIL being filed for external voting option and Supreme Court finally directing EC to look for possible options to enable external voting so that NRIs can cast vote from the foreign land – these were some developments that helped clarify the scenario for NRIs. A lot has been discussed in various forums if NRIs should have voting rights or not. But let’s evaluate how much influence do the NRIs have on the ongoing election, and do our political parties really care for them?
Yes, they do and in a big way. The BJP, Congress and AAP, all have their overseas wings. They are actively involved in the online camping. Take the case of AAP. A newbie in Indian politics has been particularly active in social media and online campaigns to win support from the NRIs. In fact, Indians living abroad support 30% of their party fund. For BJP, even as they don’t accept “funds” from foreign nationals, they organized NRI Sammelan “OFBJP Global Meet – 2014” in New Delhi for the first time to elicit NRI support for its “Mission 272+”. They reached out on the promise of investment opportunities and enterprise. The Indian National Overseas Congress (INOC), USA, too is using social media, articles, media advertisements, email and telephone calls to spread the party’s message. NRIs had been a big supporter for FDI in retail.
It is interesting to note that not only the national parties, but even the regional ones are also wooing them. Notably parties like SAD, TDP and DMK are very close to their respective diaspora. It has helped then to draw lucrative investments in their respective region. Further more, unlike the reforms that began in 1991, which were more economic and pan Indian in nature, the second-generation reform agendas are in the social and infrastructure sector, which are constitutionally prerogative to the state. The regional diaspora had influenced the politics at state level. Like Telugu Association of North America as well as US-based Telugu professionals were active in Chandrababu Naidu’s ideas of shaping Hyderabad. So the Indian political fraternity has no choice but to pay heed as well. There is also a high visibility of the diaspora in Gujarat policy, which emanates mainly from the fact that the community has a rich business oriented NRI base, which is a huge resource to meet socio-philanthropic and economic-entrepreneurial need of the state. A high salience to culture-religion also generates empathy among the community towards the right-wing cultural ideology. The NRI influence was also sharply manifested in Punjab politics. Though Akalis voted against UPA government, they never voiced any opposition to the nuclear deal, as America-based NRIs wanted to support the deal.
With NRIs becoming more and more affluent and politically active in their countries of adoption, Indian political parties like to engage them as goodwill brand ambassador, promoting India’s image to the outside world, as a democratic and investment friendly country. At the same time, more than dozen NRIs applied for party ticket this time, even ready to relinquish their foreign citizenship. It could be good for Indian politics, as they could bring with them better administrative knowledge, which the parties might look forward to utilize. But there are some critical issues that future Indian Government has to address. The labor right issue in the Arab countries. Government should show enough authority to make sure the rights of Indian migrant worker are never in jeopardy. This will help to build confidence among the migrant workers that they are not left on their own. NRIs are looking at the future Government to come up clear in terms of the FDI issue. A clear-cut policy will help inflow of investment from NRIs as well. And finally a strong foreign policy is required to protect the overseas assets of interest.
So it is quite evident that though the NRIs might not be playing a direct role in Indian politics, they are actively involved in moulding the socio-economic structure of our country. So they cannot be ignored for long. The Supreme Court taking the decision to allow external voting is one step forward to bring them under the political framework allowing them to play active role in politics. Hopefully EC will work on the verdict and come up with a correct formulation allowing a bigger and active participation for the NRIs in the next General election.