An NRI IT consultant on Friday began a three-day hunger strike outside the Indian High Commission in London to protest the Indian government’s failure to introduce absentee ballots for NRIs around the world.
Nagendra Chindam is the co-founder of the Pravasi Bharat group set up in August 2012 to campaign for the right of the diaspora to vote in Indian elections.
“This is the very last resort. We have written numerous letters, organised peaceful protests and a march in London in October 2012 but the government has failed to address the issue,” Chindam said soon after he began his fast.
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He plans to consume only water until 1600 GMT on Republic Day, when he will break his fast near the iconic Mahatma Gandhi statue at Tavistock Square in the heart of London.
“As January 26 is an auspicious day for us, we will gather to lay floral tributes to the Mahatma, sing our national anthem and together sign a petition to state that we are the concerned citizens of India residing abroad and concerned about the well-being of our nation,” he said, referring to an online petition titled ‘Vote by Special Ballot for Indian Citizens Living Abroad’ that has gathered hundreds of signatures from NRIs across the globe.
The Pravasi Bharat also filed a petition calling for the option of postal or online ballots for NRIs in India’s Supreme Court and a three-judge bench has directed the Election Commission to reply.
“While that case remains pending, the 2014 general election is round the corner and it is extremely crucial that people with the right to vote have a say in the result. These are educated, intelligentsia votes that have the potential to change the dynamics of politics in India,” said Chindam, who has been based in the UK for five years.
“There are many like me who have joined this fight, including doctors, scientists, IT professionals and students. They are concerned about the nation and have every plan to be a part of its future.”
Under the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 2010, Indian citizens living abroad are eligible to vote in Indian elections but only if they are present in their respective constituencies on the day of polls.
The Pravasi Bharat group has issued a white paper outlining practical difficulties of this requirement and called on India to follow countries like the US, Canada and Pakistan in organising a credible absentee ballot system.
“Even Pakistan has created a software allowing its non-resident citizens to vote. It is not a big deal for a country like India, where scientists can go to Mars,” the group argued.
According to an estimate of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, there are 8 million NRIs across the globe.
The group claims this could add up to an average of 15,000 votes per MP, per constituency and, because in some cases MPs win by fairly narrow margins, the NRI vote could swing the results in as many as 50 constituencies.