NRI fights for voting rights
By BEGENA P PRADEEP, Posted on » Sunday, May 31, 2009
BAHRAIN resident Sihas Babu is hoping to rewrite Indian law by winning the right for millions of people to vote.
The 35-year-old has already filed a landmark case in India against an act in the Indian Constitution, which does not allow Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to take part in national or state elections.
Although he is effectively waging a one-man campaign, any victory would be celebrated by Indian expatriates around the globe.
He filed a case in the Kerala High Court against India’s Election Comm-ission, the Kerala State Government and Indian Central Government last Monday.
The Indian public can only vote in an election if they live in a constituency in India, while government employees posted abroad are the only expats who can vote.
Mr Babu, a manager at a building materials company, told the GDN he decided to file the case after flying home to vote in recent parliamentary elections, only to find his name had been taken off the electoral roll.
“The clauses in Section 19 and 20 of the Indian Constitution’s R P (Representation of the People) Act, 1950, does not allow us NRIs any voting rights if we have been away from India for more than six months,” he said.
“I went to Kerala on April 9 to take part in the parliamentary elections but was told that my name had been removed from the list of voters.
“The Election Commission’s presiding officer will check with all constituencies if the person is a resident of that particular constituency – this is how my name was removed.
“However, I know of many NRIs whose names are still on the list just because they have the influence with different political parties.
“NRIs play such an important role in developing India and there is so much money coming into the country from Indians working abroad.
“But when it comes to choosing leaders and a government who will be responsible for making decisions affecting NRIs as well, we are nowhere in the picture.
“This is not at all acceptable and it’s about time things changed.
“We should also have the right to choose our leaders.
“The government may argue that NRIs are not being allowed to vote to avoid malpractices of voting with a fake identity and double voting.
“But technology is so advanced these days that such practices can be caught or avoided.”
Mr Babu claims to be the first person to file a case against the Indian government with a view to overhauling its domestic law.
The court has now given the state and central governments, as well as the Election Commission, a month to respond to the case.
“This law was drafted in 1950 and with changing times, necessary amendments should be made,” said Mr Babu.
“I contacted leading Kerala High Court lawyer Kaleeswaran Raj and filed a case on May 25.
“If the concerned parties reject the petition, it is up to the court to pass the verdict of whether to change the clause or not.
“However, if the court rules against me, I will take the case to the Supreme Court of India.”
Mr Babu has lived in Bahrain for around 15 years and is now hoping to drum up support for his case among Indian associations and clubs here.
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