The opposition cornered the government in the Rajya Sabha over its urgency to grant voting rights to NRIs at a time the Election Commission has already declared itself logistically incapable of ensuring voting rights of migrant workers who are displaced within the country rather than abroad.
The opposition slammed the government for lack of consultation and mocked it asking whether the rush was to cash in on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s frequent trips abroad. The government did agree to hold consultations with parties but it was not immediately clear whether the commitment was about voting rights to NRIs or to migrant workers.
“…You may clarify whether it is on the mandate of the Supreme Court or the government wishes to do it only because the government wants and thinks that the NRIs all over the world — the Prime Minister has visited various countries and spoken in these countries — have supported him and, therefore, you are bringing this amendment,” said BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra said.
Speakers from the Samajwadi Party, the CPI and the JD(U) criticised the government’s plan for e-postal ballots and proxy voting, with the CPI’s D Raja saying a “proxy is proxy and right to vote is a conscience vote. Conscience vote is a secret vote. What do you mean by ‘proxy vote’?”
K T S Tulsi asked if the preference for NRIs is based on their financial clout. “If there are ten million non-resident Indians according to statistics, that will mean that there will be 18,000 votes per constituency on average and if all of them were to be given a franchise, it could significantly alter the voting pattern, and also the result of elections. I want to ask the government how is it that you are giving greater preference to non-resident Indians and lesser preference to resident Indians and migratory labour? Is it only because they have more money? Is that the reason for discrimination?” Tulsi said.
Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) said proxy voting is prone to “fraud and cheating”. Referring to the rules of voting, he demanded to know if election observers and presiding officers would be engaged abroad for NRIs.
Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the decision to give voting rights to NRIs had been taken by the UPA and announced by then PM Manmohan Singh in the 2012 Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, so it is not the principle the Congress is opposed to but the way the government has moved the proposal. “Today government has said goodbye to all consultation process. Parliament is being made aware of developments from newspaper reports. It has become the habit of the government to bypass Parliament and the standing committees. When we object, we are being criticised,” he said.
Law Minister Sadanand Gowda’s reply to members’ concerns about secrecy and methodology failed to satisfy the opposition. Gowda said “e-postal and postal ballot voting methodologies are being worked out for the voting rights of the NRIs”.