x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Expatriate Indians in the UAE call for their right to vote

About 814 million people are eligible to vote – a rise of 100 million, with the ruling Congress party battling it out with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and many smaller parties.

An Indian official demonstrates Electronic Voting Machines procedures to the personnel for election duty in Tripura yesterday. Arindam Dey / AFP
An Indian official demonstrates Electronic Voting Machines procedures to the personnel for election duty in Tripura yesterday. Arindam Dey / AFP

ABU DHABI // Only a few thousand of the more than two million Indians living in the UAE will be able to vote in their country’s elections which begin on Monday.

Currently expatriates have to register online and then travel back to vote in person. And the high cost of travel is preventing the vast majority of Indians from casting their votes.

It is a situation that has prompted Indian expatriates to call for the right to vote from overseas.

One of them, Mohammed Ansher Aboobaker, area operations manager at National Bank of Abu Dhabi, said: “We are not allowed to vote from here. Why?”

He added: “Solutions can be found if the government wants to give us voting rights from overseas. Otherwise, who will travel from the UAE to India to vote?

“Non-resident Indians [NRIs] send a huge amount of money back every year. They invest in plenty of projects and participate in the country’s development. But their voices remain unheard.”

Mr Aboobaker called for proper representation for overseas Indians – and for their voices to be heard.

“Participation in the electoral process is very important. This must be considered seriously. NRIs need good representation.

“It is not viable to travel to vote. Some arrangement should be made, as people from other countries vote at their missions.”

Abdul Gafoor Kadavath, a senior officer with Union National Bank in Abu Dhabi, who has lived in the UAE for 30 years, said: “I planned to travel to vote this year but am saddened I can’t because my name is not on the voter’s list. “

Major issues for expatriates are corruption, water resources and development, with some believing that the spectacular emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), or common man party, could prove decisive in tackling corruption.

Mr Kadavath said: “I believe this is the last chance for people to change the government and remove corrupt people. We hope the AAP can fight corrupt politicians and make India free from the corruption which plagues it.”

Overseas voting rights have been a long-standing demand. However, the country’s minister for overseas Indian affairs, Vayalar Ravi, said in January that voting rights for NRIs were not being considered at the time.

“Millions of non-resident Indians are spread all over the world and have been demanding for many decades voting rights,” said KV Shamsudheen, chairman of the Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust in Sharjah.

“If the new government takes the necessary steps in that direction, in the next election, NRIs could cast their votes online,” said Mr Shamsudheen.

“The Aam Admi Party is trying for change, but it will take a long time.”

Despite the voting issues, interest in the election remains high and one enthusiast has chartered a plane to fly back to vote.

Ibrahim Elettil, general secretary of Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre in Dubai, said: “About 100 people will fly on this chartered plane on April 7 to vote in their constituency in Kerala on April 10.

“We have already received 81 names and more would come when the election dates get close.”

According to Mr Elettil, the centre has 50,000 registered voters and 2,000 will travel. Everyone will pay for their own tickets.

“I will travel with this flight to vote. I want a free, fair and stable government, which can resolve public issues. We are here in the UAE’s peaceful environment and want a peaceful and people-loving government back home,” Mr Elettil said.

The general election will be held in nine phases, from Monday to May 12, and the results will be declared on May 16.

About 814 million people are eligible to vote – an increase of 100 million – with the ruling Congress party battling it out with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and many smaller parties. General elections in India are held every five years.

anwar@thenational.ae