Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

Indian elections: UAE voters fly home to go to the polls

Congress party loyalists in the UAE say they have negotiated cheaper air fares for supporters in different emirates eager to travel home to vote

 UAE residents Shukoor Ali Kallungal and Ashraf Ponnani are taking a keen interest in the elections in their homeland. Victor Besa / The National
 UAE residents Shukoor Ali Kallungal and Ashraf Ponnani are taking a keen interest in the elections in their homeland. Victor Besa / The National

At least two planes exclusively carrying Indian passengers are bound for Kerala this week so the UAE residents can vote in India’s parliamentary elections.

Others are preparing for trips to their home country next month to cast their ballot in the later stages of polling scheduled for their respective states.

Some men will be voting for the first time since moving to the UAE decades ago, others are party loyalists who frequently return to India to vote in federal and state elections.

“Thousands of people are going back to vote. We want everyone to use their vote and are motivating people to go to Kerala,” said Shukoor Ali Kallungal, a businessman and president of the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre in Abu Dhabi, a voluntary organisation that assists Indian residents.

Indians will fly to southern Calicut and Kochi towns and then on to their constituencies in neighbouring cities and villages for the second phase of voting on April 23.

Congress party loyalists in the UAE say they have negotiated cheaper air fares for supporters in different emirates eager to travel home to vote.

People in the Gulf are very concerned about what is happening in India. The present government is shattering democratic values

Ravindran Thandassery

Indians residing overseas cannot vote unless they travel to their constituency to cast their ballot. There are an estimated 2.8 million Indian residents in the UAE.

Many committed party supporters have already returned to their hometowns where they are conducting awareness campaigns urging people to exercise their vote.

Polling began last week and extends to the end of May. It will be conducted across the country in seven phases.

Mr Kallungal hopes his vote will secure a win for the opposition Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi.

“We support Rahul because we believe he will form a secular government. The Congress party on its own cannot form a government and may need the support of other opposition parties,” he said.

“Diversity is important in India but unfortunately in the last five years the prime minister and his government do not care for the minority. The government is not bothered about the rights of the minority.”

The Congress has formed an alliance with 20 regional parties to improve its chance of a win against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi’s government has been criticised for widening the divide between minority Muslims and majority Hindus. Right-wing Hindu groups have been accused of attacking minority Muslims and Dalits – or low caste Hindus – for slaughtering cows, that are sacred in Hinduism, and eating beef. The government has denied any links to the groups.

Congress supporters said they had received enquiries from people in the UAE keen to travel back on polling day.

Sharjah resident Girish Pant will be heading back to India for the first time since moving to the UAE to have his say in the country's elections. Satish Kumar/ For the National 
Sharjah resident Girish Pant will be heading back to India for the first time since moving to the UAE to have his say in the country's elections. Satish Kumar/ For the National 

“Our intention is to help move the maximum number of people to cast their vote. People have arranged annual leave and will take a week off after they vote,” said Ravindran Thandassery, UAE convener for the United Democratic Front, an opposition alliance that includes the Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League in the southern state of Kerala.

“People in the Gulf are very concerned about what is happening in India. The present government is shattering the democratic values that guide how we should live together in harmony.”

BJP supporters back Mr Modi who has promised to make India the world’s third largest economy by 2030.

India is currently the world’s sixth-largest economy and the government rolled out initiatives such as "Make in India" to invite foreign direct investment and to boost domestic manufacturing.

Girish Pant, a businessman who won a government Pravasi Bharatiya award this year for helping workers in distress, will be in New Delhi in time to vote on May 12.

“People need to choose the right leader who will continue to take the country forward and make the country economically strong,” he said.

“We have a prime minister who has received the highest honours in the UAE, Russia and Saudi Arabia. India now has a good name overseas.”

Over the past five years, Mr Modi has been conferred global awards by the United Nations and countries including South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Afghanistan and the UAE.

Earlier this month, the UAE awarded him its highest civil recognition, the Zayed medal, for his part in strengthening ties between the two nations.

Businessman Ramakant Dixit describes Mr Modi as a role model. He will cast his vote in Nigohan village in northern Uttar Pradesh on May 6 for the first time in 30 years since he moved to the UAE.

“Modi is a dynamic leader, he is knowledgeable, interacts well with world leaders. It is important to have a leader of such calibre,” he said.

“Every vote counts and I want this government that is working for the people to continue. I travel a lot for my waste management business. Whether it is Europe or Singapore when I say I’m from India, people immediately talk about Modi. You are from ‘Modi’s country' they all say," said Mr Dixit.

Updated: April 16, 2019 01:37 PM

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