Judging rules of governance of friendly countries from our standards and describing them in an uncharitable way is not a good idea
Shaheen Nazar | Clarion India
Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) are likely to get the right to vote through postal ballot but those based in Gulf countries will not be given this facility.
According to a report published in The Indian Express, the Election Commission and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) held a meeting last week in which the latter, sources said, agreed to the proposal, on the condition that the Commission should arrange the manpower needed at the India missions abroad to facilitate postal voting for NRIs.
The poll panel is believed to have informed the government that it is “technically and administratively ready” to extend the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) to voters abroad for elections next year in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Currently, it is only available to those in the Defence services. NRIs willing to vote are obliged to come to their respective constituencies.
To begin with, postal ballot facilities will be available to NRIs based in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Germany, France and South Africa. Indians based in six Gulf countries, namely Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have been kept out of this exercise. The reason given is strange. According to the Express report, the MEA has in the past expressed strong reservations over facilitating voting for Indian citizens living in “non-democratic nations”.
According to the MEA, holding a democratic exercise, involving voters queuing outside Indian Missions and Embassies, in non-democratic countries will require permissions, and the host nation may not approve.
This is a lame excuse. There are nearly seven million Indians in Gulf countries. They organise all sorts of gatherings, some private individuals, some sponsored by Indian missions, and some directly by the missions. Local governments not only give permission but local businesses support them by way of sponsorships.
At least two Gulf monarchies, Bahrain and Kuwait, hold elections to their respective parliament and do proper electioneering. In Saudi Arabia, chambers of commerce in cities like Jeddah, Riyad and Dammam elect their office-bearers and the candidates seek votes like any other election.
Calling someone “non-democratic” has a negative connotation, that, too, friendly countries. We have deep-rooted age-old relations with Gulf countries. Judging them from our standards and describing them in an uncharitable way is not a good idea. They may take offence to this. This is in a way demeaning their way of governance. At a time when our government is trying to reach out to Gulf rulers and seek their investment in India, these types of remarks are irritants that should be avoided.
Not long ago, BJP MP Tejaswi Surya’s derogatory tweets on Arab women caused a diplomatic row. Hindutva zealots earning their livelihood in Gulf countries, too, made some irresponsible remarks that added fuel to the fire. Indian diplomats had to work overtime to defuse the tension. Calling Gulf states “non-democratic countries” is no less undiplomatic behaviour on the part of MEA officials.
Voting rights for Indians residing in foreign countries has been a long-standing demand. It may be noted that Gulf-based NRIs are much closer to their country–emotionally as well as physically–than those based in Western countries. Those in the US or Europe leave India for good and remain Indians only till the time they get citizenship of a foreign country. On the other hand, Gulf NRIs remain loyal Indians and return home at the end of their job contract bringing with them all their savings.
Ideally, any such project should have started with them. But the government appears to be more interested in NRIs based in the West, maybe because the Bharatiya Janata Party expects them to vote en bloc for Narendra Modi.