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  • 18 Jun, 2024

Why Indians overseas are so desperate to travel home to vote

Why Indians overseas are so desperate to travel home to vote

Non-resident Indians, citizens residing across the globe whom the prime minister has engaged during his tenure in foreign visits, are returning to their homeland to actively participate in closely contested elections.

Mahesh Murthy, an Indian expatriate, has resided in Hong Kong, the US, the Netherlands, and the UAE for more than 15 years. Despite living 2,540km away in Dubai, his connection to his Indian identity remains strong. He actively follows political developments, government policies, and decisions impacting the lives of 1.44 billion Indians through mainstream news, social media, and discussions with friends and relatives. Now, he joins the ranks of many overseas Indians, commonly known as NRIs, who have returned to India from various parts of the world to exercise their right to vote.

In the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha election, a record-breaking number of over 118,000 overseas Indians have registered to vote. The majority hail from the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, marking a significant 65% increase from the 2019 election. With thousands already arrived or on their way, women constitute 11% of this voter surge.

Expressing his views, Murthy emphasizes the government's responsibility to create conducive conditions for citizens to reach their full potential. He underscores the importance of prioritizing healthcare, food security, education, infrastructure, technology, and business-friendly regulations for national development.

This marks Murthy's fourth time participating in elections. He has made the journey from overseas to vote in two previous elections and was present for the May 13 vote in his hometown, Hyderabad, Telangana. "Voting, to me, is exercising my right to contribute to the selection of my country's representatives," states Murthy, who manages an ad agency and invests in various companies, including one in Hyderabad specializing in satellite and space technology solutions.

Having grown up in a family with a military background, Murthy reflects on the changing dynamics of India. "Back then, factors like religion, caste, and language held little significance for us. Today's India presents a different landscape," he observes.

In Terms of Global Indian Representation

Data from the Election Commission of India reveals that 74.9% of newly registered NRI voters hail from Kerala, with Andhra Pradesh following at 6.4%, Maharashtra at 4.7%, and Tamil Nadu and Telangana at 2.9% each.

According to Ministry of External Affairs statistics, over 30 million Indians are settled worldwide, with nearly 13.5 million being NRIs and the rest Overseas Citizens of India (OCI), individuals of Indian ancestry who are not Indian citizens.

India boasts the largest diaspora globally, surpassing countries like Mexico, Russia, and China in terms of overseas population.

During the 2014 election, despite over 11,800 NRIs registering to vote, less than 1% actually participated. Similarly, in 2019, although a substantial 99,807 NRIs were registered, only 25,000 exercised their voting rights.

Until 2010, NRIs were ineligible to vote. However, a legal amendment that year allowed NRIs residing abroad for over six months to be included in India's electoral rolls, granting them the right to vote from foreign lands.

New Delhi's engagement with NRIs has also evolved over time. Prime Minister Modi actively engages with the diaspora during his international visits. For instance, in May 2023, Modi received a warm welcome from 20,000 cheering fans at Sydney stadium, where he shared the stage with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Albanese remarked on the magnitude of the reception, comparing it to iconic figures like Bruce Springsteen.

In June 2023, Modi addressed the Indian diaspora at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Centre in Washington DC. The event commenced with a rendition of India's National Anthem by award-winning singer Mary Millben.

Similarly, in February of the same year, Modi spoke to thousands of Indians in Abu Dhabi, UAE, during the grand inauguration of the Swaminarayan temple. The enthusiasm of the diaspora was palpable, leading to event registration closure as attendance exceeded 65,000.

Having an Impact

Overseas voter Maruthi Prasad Surapaneni eagerly anticipates casting his vote. Among 1,500 NRIs who returned to Andhra Pradesh in the past month, he views it as an opportunity to participate in both the state assembly and national parliamentary elections on May 13.

Expressing his support for Modi, Prasad, who owns a restaurant and is involved in real estate in Melbourne, Australia, emphasizes the importance of selecting capable leaders to foster growth in various aspects like investments, job opportunities, and infrastructure.

Similarly, NRI Gangadhar Gutta, 50, based in Delaware, USA for 17 years, returned to Gudivada, Andhra Pradesh, two weeks ago, citing a desire to safeguard democracy. Engaging with locals upon his arrival, Gutta aims to address grievances he observed firsthand under the current government through his vote.

Regarding Foreign Policy

Political analyst Rajalakshmi Joshi notes the keen interest of the Indian diaspora in the elections, influenced by the ruling party's stance, which impacts them globally, particularly concerning migration policies.

Recognizing Modi's efforts in addressing diaspora concerns, Joshi highlights his effective outreach during international visits, which has become a notable feature of his foreign policy.

Joshi also underscores the significance of both major parties' connection with NRIs for their support, emphasizing the potential impact of overseas voters on election outcomes, particularly in states with closely contested seats.

Modi's ambition to secure over 400 seats has galvanized BJP workers worldwide to campaign and support the party, reflecting the global interest in the Indian elections.

While the BJP views the 2024 Lok Sabha election as pivotal for the country's progress, the Opposition advocates for safeguarding democracy and upholding the constitution, prompting NRIs from both sides to actively participate in the electoral process.

The exponential increase in overseas voters over the past decade signals the awakening of the diaspora to the significance of their vote in shaping India's future.