India vote-(Read-Only)
Currently, overseas Indians can only vote if they are physically present in the constituencies where they are registered. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), about 10 per cent of whom live in the UAE, will finally get to know if they will be able to cast their votes in the 2019 Indian elections from abroad before February.

India’s Supreme Court on Friday said it would hear in January 2019, petitions related to voting rights for NRIs.

The apex court said this after it was informed that a bill to amend the electoral law to allow NRIs to vote is likely to come up before the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, in this winter session, which begins today (December11).

The government informed this to a bench hearing a batch of petitions filed by Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, chairman and managing director of Abu Dhabi-based VPS Healthcare, and other NRIs like Nagender Chindam, chairman of London-based Pravasi Bharat organisation.


NRIs around the world

The bench said it would hear the matter in last week of January, Indian media reported.

“My main agenda is to get the legislation done. Indians want to know if there will be a chance for them to cast vote when they are overseas,” Dr. Vayalil told Gulf News.

The bill to amend the Representation of the People Act so that the facility of ‘proxy voting’ is extended to overseas Indians, on the lines of service voters, was passed in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the parliament in August.

Currently, overseas Indians are free to cast their votes if they are physically present in the constituencies where they are registered. The bill seeks to give them the option of proxy voting, which till now was only available to service personnel.

Passed by a voice vote in the Lower House, the bill proposes that overseas Indians, who are entitled to vote in India, could now appoint a proxy voter to cast their votes.

It needs to be passed in the Rajya Sabha before getting the approval of the Indian President for it to become a law.

The Rajya Sabha will meet from December 11 to January 8. According to an official announcement, the upper house will have 20 sittings during the winter session.

Dubai-based Indian lawyer Mohammad Sajid, said the Supreme Court hearing will have big significance if the bill doesn’t get passed in Rajya Sabha.

“The government will not oppose the petitions seeking voting rights for NRIs as it has already got it passed in Lok Sabha. So whether it gets passed in Rajya Sabha, or the Supreme Court gives a favourable verdict, we should be able to know by end of January.”

Government hopeful

Ramesh Mannath, Dubai president of Indian People’s Forum (IPF), an overseas socio-cultural wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said the government is hopeful of getting the bill passed in Rajya Sabha. “When IPF members met the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her recent visit to Abu Dhabi, she had assured that the bill will be tabled in Rajya Sabha in the winter session so that it can be passed into a law to enable NRIs to cast their votes in the 2019 general elections.”

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections will be held sometime around April and May. The tenure of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government will end on May 26, 2019.

If NRIs get voting right prior to that and if the Election Commission can make arrangements to facilitate it in time, the Indian diaspora is likely to play a big role in the formation of the country’s next government.

According to estimates of Ministry of External Affairs reported in Indian media, there are about 31 million NRIs living in different countries across the world. According to the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, around 3.3 million Indians live in the UAE, forming more than 10 per cent of the overseas Indians.

However, how many NRIs are eligible to vote will be known only once they register their names in the electoral roll published by the Election Commission of India.