Voting Rights to NRI

India is the largest democracy in the world. The very foundation of our government and system of administration is Universal Adult Suffrage. According to the Election Commission of India, over 814.5 million people were deemed eligible to vote in the 2014 general elections. There are a number of people, however, who are routinely unable to cast their mandate. Service personnel – serving members of the Indian Armed Forces – used to be one of the largest groups of people who missed casting their votes due to their posting in the far reaches of the country. Absentee voting regulations were amended in 2003 to secure their voting rights. By far the largest community of people which is regularly unable to cast their votes is the Indian diaspora. Non-resident Indians (NRI) who retain Indian citizenship often complain of their inability to participate in the democratic process. A recent Cabinet decision may, however, change this as well.

Cabinet Ruling May Clear Proxy Votes For NRI

On Wednesday, 2 August 2017, the Union Cabinet cleared a proposal to extend proxy voting rights to the Indian community living overseas. This clearance is likely to be followed up by an amendment of the Representation of the People Act. The amended law shall then extend absentee voting rights to the NRI community. Each NRI (with Indian citizenship) shall then be allowed to choose a proxy to cast his or her vote. This designation of proxy shall be valid for a single election as mentioned by the NRI voter. The proxy will be required to cast the vote from the constituency in which the voter is registered.

The proposal that was passed by the central cabinet was the outcome of the study by an expert committee of the Election Commission in the year 2015. The committee had suggested that the law ministry amend guidelines and laws concerned with the electoral process and come up with a legal framework for proxy voting of NRIs.

As of 2016, the United Nations declared that India’s diaspora (estimated at about 16 million) was the largest in the world. 2014 election records show that only about 1000 to 12000 non-resident Indians come back to their home constituencies to exercise their voting rights due to the high cost of traveling back and forth.

The cabinet had considered two alternatives – sending ballot papers of registered NRI voters to their nearest embassies and asking them to vote from these offices and the other was use of proxy. The latter seemed more logistically convenient.

Voting By Proxy In India

Voting by proxy is not new to India but it is still a rather infrequently exercised right. many of the Indian laws and administrative processes have drawn heavily from British systems. On September 22, 2003, India once again drew inspiration from the British system of absentee voting of soldiers and introduced proxy voting for service personnel.

Since its introduction, a soldier may nominate a proxy – a regular voter from the constituencies in which he or she is registered – to cast his mandate. Such a proxy, unlike the one suggested for NRIs, may be a permanent one. This provision is available for soldiers in field postings, meaning located in remote border areas or in high-altitude posts etc. The soldier will be required to fill up two forms – Form 2 and Form 13. In Form 2 he or she nominates a proxy and submits it to the unit’s Commanding Officer (CO) who in turn verifies it and forwards it to the district electoral officer. Form 13 is sent to the proxy who uses it to cast the absentee vote. The proxy, however, will need to get the form authenticated by a First Class Magistrate.

Soldiers and their families in peaceful areas where elections are being held may cast their votes locally. Voting by postal ballot is also available to serving soldiers.

The cumbersome proxy voting forms and processes involved, however, dissuade most serving soldiers from casting their votes.

PM Narendra Modi has undoubtedly been the most popular Prime Minister with the Indian diaspora. He has consistently engaged with overseas Indians on his trips abroad. Referring to Indians living abroad as Indian ambassadors has endeared him to the NRIs. This introduction of the proxy voting facility will certainly bring the Indians living abroad one step closer to the country and to the NDA.