Mohammed Rifad Thayyil and Abdul Rahoof Thayyil-1714200957055
Brothers Mohammed Rifad Thayyil (left) and Abdul Rahoof Thayyil after casting their votes on Friday.

Dubai: Thousands of Indian expats from the UAE displayed their commitment to democracy by voting back home in the world’s largest democratic election that is held every five years.

Among them were brothers Mohammed Rifad Thayyil, 19, and Abdul Rahoof Thayyil, 20, whose father Rasheed Thayyil used to fly home to vote in past elections.

This time, despite their father’s absence due to work, the brothers were determined to exercise their voting rights for the first time.

Rifad, who is preparing for an entrance exam for his higher studies after completing his grade 12 here, flew home on Wednesday to ensure that he does not miss the election in his constituency on Friday. He joined his brother, who is also a UAE resident and currently a medical student back home, to visit their local polling station and cast their votes as Non Resident Indians need to be physically present in their registered constituencies to exercise their franchise.

“Every Indian has the right to choose his representative,” Rifad told Gulf News over the phone from Malappuram district.

“I came from Sharjah yesterday and I voted for the first time today. It was a wonderful experience. It was too hot and humid here and people were struggling, standing in the queue. Yet, they were so passionate about voting. I feel so proud to be a part of it and I guess I will continue to vote every time,” said the former student of Sharjah Indian School.

Rifad was one of the many youngsters from the UAE who went to vote in India this time. Along with other seasoned voters, they also proudly shared photos of them flaunting their inked fingers after casting their ballots.

Sreerag Shine-1714200961452
Sreerag Shine after casting his vote in India

Sreerag Shine, who just finished grade 12 from GEMS Our Own Sharjah, cast his vote with his mother Sheeja. “As I just turned 18, I got enrolled in the electoral list in February itself because I knew I would be coming to Kerala for a crash course to write an entrance exam in April. I feel it’s the right of every Indian citizen to cast their vote. So, I didn’t want to miss it,” he said.

Another first time voter, who flew home with his family to cast his vote, was Sarang Hariram. The former student of DPS Sharjah, along with his father Dr Hariram Palliyil and mother Dr Sreeja Hariram joined his grandmother who resides in Kerala, to cast their ballots.

Dr Hariram
(From right) Dr HariramPalliyil, his son Sarang Hariram and wife Dr Sreeja Hariram flew home from Dubai to cast their votes Image Credit:

“He flew down to Kerala with us. He has his own political beliefs. He wants to choose whoever he thinks will bring development to the country,” said his father Dr Hariram, the director of an inspection and testing company.

New changes

Friends Dr Sandeep Thomas, and Sivakumar Hariharan, who went together to cast their ballots, said they also observed that the overall participation of the younger generation in the electoral process was higher this time.

“That is a good sign for the future of the country,” said Hariharan, chief managing director in a logistics company.

“I have been casting my vote since I got the voting rights. It has been 26 years since I have been abroad but I used to find time to go and cast votes since it is our right to do so. Many people asked me ‘why are you coming for a day for the election’ and I said I wish to be an inspiration for those who are reluctant to vote. I may have missed a couple of elections due to my prolonged journeys, but I believe it is important to utilise our right,” he said.

Sivakumar Hariharan an Dr Sandeep
Indian expats in UAE Sivakumar Hariharan (left) and Dr Sandeep Thomas were excited to cast their votes once again

Dr Thomas, a general practitioner with a medical centre in JVC, said: “It was my pleasure to be part of the world’s largest democratic festival. I never miss this opportunity that comes every five years — the only day in every five years, the power comes to the common man to choose his government for the next term.”

The duo said they were happy to see the new arrangements made such as priority queues for the senior citizens and people of determination, community police duty assigned to school students for crowd control etc.

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Vote flights

While more youngsters from the UAE voting back home is a new trend, the majority of the voters from here were part of various community groups. As with previous Indian elections, members of these groups travelled on what they refer to as “vote flights,” which are either chartered flights or on which tickets are bought in bulk.

According to media reports, some 20,000 overseas Keralites had reached the state for the phase 2 of the election on Friday. The politically agile expats from Kerala are traditionally known for flying home in thousands to cast their votes. Reports said that more than 118,000 overseas Indians registered to vote in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, with around 75 per cent hailing from Kerala. There are an estimated 3.5 million Indians in the UAE and around one million of them are Keralites.

Welcome ceremonies at the airport were held for KMCC members who went to cast vote back home in big groups Image Credit: Supplied

Hundreds of members of community groups like Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) and the Indian Cultural and Arts Society (INCAS) etc arranged vote flights this time also.

Most of the KMCC members stuck on their baggage the pictures of the candidates they are supporting while the KMCC Ajman members even came up with a special music album related to their vote flight.

There were reception ceremonies held at airports to welcome KMCC members who arrived in Calicut International Airport, said KMCC leader Anwar Naha.

“We had hundreds of members flying down from different emirates. There were women also who came down to vote this time,” he said.

Nisar Thalangara
Nisar Thalangara (third from right) flew home with his sister, nieces and friends to participate in the world’s largest election. Image Credit: Supplied

Vote for voting rights

Nisar Thalangara, president of Sharjah Indian Association, said several senior members of the organisation also flew home to exercise their franchise. “It is our duty to cast our vote and being the president of the largest Indian community group, I had to lead by example,” said Thalangara who was accompanied by his sister, nieces and friends from here.

“The next government should seriously think of implementing an online voting facility for expatriates which we have been fighting for years,” he added.

Abdul Qadir Theruvath
Abdul Qadir Theruvath and his wife Safiya after casting vote at a polling station in Bangalore, Karnataka, on Friday. Image Credit: Supplied

Meanwhile, long-term UAE resident Abdul Qadir Theruvath, who cast his vote along with his wife Safiya in Bangalore, Karnataka, also echoed the same. “I am a regular voter. Every time, I come down for the election. It is high time the NRIs received the right to vote from their place of residence. Many countries allow their citizens the right to vote in elections when they are not present in their home country and some even allow foreign nationals to vote. We are waiting for this historic move from the next government,” he said.