Anticipation is beginning to build up among the global Indian diaspora, including those in New Zealand, as India goes to elections in seven stages, starting from April 11 to May 19, in what is the world’s biggest democratic exercise.
A whopping 900 million voters are eligible to exercise their ballots in the elections to pick the 543 MPs who will sit in India's lower House of Parliament, the Lok Sabha.
The counting will begin after a short break of a few days on May 23, with results most likely to be announced by the end of that day.
In total, some 930,000 polling stations will be used, with people casting their votes using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
According to the Election Commission of India, there is an increase of 84.3 million voters since the last general election in 2014, which anyway witnessed a record-high voter turnout of 66.38 per cent.
Experts believe that two-thirds of all Indian voters are less than 35 years of age.
As part of the voter awareness campaign, Election Commission of India and Indian Railways have come together to utilise four long distance Trains to carry voter awareness and motivational messages.
The trains will be displaying important contact for the citizens including the Voter Helpline number and the National Voters’ Services Portal besides motivational messages urging them to vote. The trains that have been selected, viz, Kerala Express, Himsagar Express, Howrah Express and Guwahati Express, are the longest North-South route and East-West route and covers 19 States in all.
Indian Railways has one of the largest railway networks in the world. According to the report submitted by the Ministry of Railways, on an average, Indian Railways carries 22.24 million passengers and 3.04 million tonnes of freight each day.
What do NRI voters need to know?
Given that the bonhomie between Indian polity and its global diaspora has increased in an unprecedented manner in recent past thereby giving rise to massive expectation around the voting rights, and ability to vote, of the Indians living overseas.
This year, according to an estimate more than 70,000 voters have been enrolled in the electoral rolls from overseas for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
There has long been a lot of unsubstantiated information floating around on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter thereby adding to anticipation and confusion around voting rights of NRIs.
According to UN World Migration Report (2018), India has the largest diaspora population in the world with about 31.2 million people of Indian ancestry or origin residing outside India.
However, not everyone is eligible to vote. According to rough estimates, half of them are eligible to vote in India
The voting right is reserved for Non-Resident Indians living overseas, who have not accepted citizenship of any other country and continues to remain Indian citizen.
Voter registration and voting rights
The Government of India introduced a bill in December 2017 seeking an amendment to the Representation of People Act, 1950 and the Representation of People Act, 1951, to reform processes for registration and voting rights of NRIs.
Among other things, the Bill sought to extend proxy-voting rights to the families of NRIs living overseas.
Currently, eligible people living overseas can enrol as an NRI voter on the website of the Election Commission of India.
Alternatively, one can download Form 6A from the ECI website.
Forms are also available free of cost in Indian Missions.
The Verification Process
Once all information is submitted to the Election Commission website then subsequently Booth Level Officer will visit the home address mentioned in the applicant’s passport and inquire to verify the copies of documents.
In cases where no relative is available or willing to give declaration for verification of documents, the documents will be sent for verification to the concerned Indian Mission.
The decision of the ERO will be communicated to the applicant by post on the address and SMS on the mobile number given in Form 6A. Electoral rolls are also on the website of the Chief Electoral Officer.
How to vote
Currently, there is a lot of misinformation around the ability of NRIs to vote from long distance without having to travel back to India to their respective constituencies, against the backdrop of the passing of Bill in the Indian parliament.
In this regard, it is submitted that the Bill was recently passed by the Lower House (Lok Sabha) and since then a lot of misinformation has been spread that the law has been amended and NRIs can now vote from long distance without being required to travel back to their native place to cast their ballot.
However, it is important to note that this bill still needs to be considered by the Upper House, Rajya Sabha, and will come into force once passed in both houses.
It is to say that NRIs will still need to go back to India, to their electoral booth to cast their votes in the Lok Sabha elections 2019.