From Our Correspondent
MUSCAT: Even if the Bill had been passed in Rajya Sabha, the Non-Resident Indians would not have got a chance to vote in the 2019 general elections, Dr Shashi Tharoor, Indian Parliamentarian and Chairman of Indian External Affairs Ministry Standing Committee, said.
“The Bill had no framework; it delegated the powers to provide a framework to implement the right to vote by proxy to the executive. Therefore, the government would have had to frame the various rules and procedures to oversee proxy voting. That would have been a time-consuming process and therefore, I do not believe that they would have been ready to implement it for the 2019 elections even if they had passed the Bill in the last session of Parliament,” Dr Tharoor told The Arabian Stories.
A long-standing demand of some 31 million non-resident Indians (NRIs) to get voting rights has not been fulfilled in this coming general election either, as the Central government has failed to discuss and pass the Representation of People (Amendment Bill).
The Representation of People (Amendment Bill), passed in August 2018 in Lok Sabha, had to be passed in the Rajya Sabha to become an Act.
However, the Rajya Sabha, which convened for the Budget Session from January 31 to February 13 failed to discuss and pass the Bill, disappointing NRIs.
Dr Tharoor said that there are no two views that NRIs must be allowed to exercise their right to vote, however differences lie with regards to the manner in which they are able to exercise their rights.
“The government wanted to give them the right to vote through nominated proxies in India. This is however fraught with numerous problems and can be easily misused. We can explore other means such as E-postal ballots and we can equip Missions abroad to help facilitate voting such a mechanism. Proxy vote in essence goes against the very concept of a secret ballot as one has to disclose his or her preference to another individual, who in turn has to votes on his or her behalf. However, there is no guarantee that he or she may do so, thereby vitiating the object of free and fair elections,” Dr Tharoor said.
NRIs are citizens of India and therefore have every right to participate in the election process of our country. I was not a resident of India for a large part of my lifetime, therefore I understand the difficulties of those who are unable to exercise their franchise due to the tyranny of distance.Dr Shashi Tharoor
Dr Tharoor added that he was the first NRI to call for voting rights for Indian citizens abroad at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Mumbai in January 2005 and it was in recognition of this popular demand that the UPA government under Dr. Manmohan Singh gave the NRIs their right to vote through the insertion of Section 20A of The Representation of The People Act, 1950, discarding the need to be resident Indian to participate in the democratic process.
“NRIs are citizens of India and therefore have every right to participate in the election process of our country. I was not a resident of India for a large part of my lifetime, therefore I understand the difficulties of those who are unable to exercise their franchise due to the tyranny of distance,” he added.
While asked whether the Indian National Congress (INC) would have benefitted if the NRIs have got the voting right, he said that the Congress Party has worked tirelessly for the rights of NRIs.
“As I said earlier, it was the UPA Government which amended The Representation of The People Act, 1950, discarding the need to be resident Indian to participate in elections. In my capacity as the Chairman of the Standing Committee of External Affairs, I have been pushing for a new emigration law, in order to provide more protection and rights to Indian workers travelling to other countries for work. The Indian Overseas Congress is also playing an important role in gathering views and suggestions of the NRI community, as part of the consultative process for the preparation of the Congress Manifesto. Many of the blue-collar workers and others in the Gulf have traditionally been INC supporters, and the warm welcome they gave Rahul Gandhi on his trips to the region reaffirms that. I believe the NRI community will largely back the Congress Party, especially due to the poor performance of the Modi Government in the last 5 years,” he added.
(To be continued…)