Nayanika Barat, 45, grew up in Kolkata and Jabalpur. She has been working as a doctor in Australia for nearly 20 years, and engages with the politics of both countries. “There is not a great deal of difference between labour and liberals in Australia on a number of issues—they are both right of centre and it has allowed me to see that if you go too far to the right it can end up being cruel and meaningless,” says Barat. In India, she supports the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), assuming the latter is “carried out honestly”.

“A large part of my family is East Bengali—the question of why it is based on religion can be answered by saying that the partitions of East and West Bengal in both 1905 and 1971 (and 1947) were based on religion,” she says. “If we have accepted partition not once but twice in Bengal, we have to accept that all of this is on the basis of religion. There is no reason that we should give everyone accelerated citizenship.”

Barat, who identifies as a centrist or a Social Democrat, is part of the largest diaspora in the world. In fact, the number of Indian-origin residents globally has increased by 10%, from 15.9 million in 2015 to 17.5 million, according to the UN’s International Migrant Stock report, released in September 2019. The Indian diaspora makes up 6.4% of the total global migrant population. This is a diaspora created by waves of migration over centuries, and not all remain citizens of India, though their links to the country may be strong.

Unlike the majority of those who have been away from India for decades, however, Barat has not applied for, or acquired, an Australian passport. “People have yelled at me, and said why don’t you change your passport. But at the moment it’s a connection (with India) that I don’t want to cut,” she says. This has meant Barat has not been able to cast her vote anywhere for a decade. Flying back to Jabalpur, where she is registered to vote, is expensive, and she does not have voting rights in Queenstown, where she now lives.

This is among the reasons why she is excited by the Election Commission of India’s (EC’s) November proposal to permit NRIs, or non-resident Indians, to cast their votes through postal ballots.

Last year, in a letter to the Union law ministry, the EC said it is “technically and administratively ready” to extend the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) to eligible voters in time for the Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry assembly elections, all due this year. The commission is expected to have broad-based consultations with the ministry of external affairs (MEA) on the way forward.

In the century following 1834, nearly 40 million people emigrated overseas from India to work on the plantations of Mauritius in the colonial era. There was a second surge in emigration in the 1970s. According to a 2018 report by the MEA, the total number of overseas Indians stands at 32,100,340 (over 32 million), of which NRIs, or those who retain Indian citizenship, constitute 13,459,195 (over 13 million). The rest are persons of Indian origin (PIOs).

Of these, The Indian Express reported last year that approximately six million Indians living abroad could be of eligible voting age. “They could hold considerable sway in election results, especially in states such as Punjab, Gujarat and Kerala, where a number of expats hail from,” it noted.

© Association for Democratic Reforms
Privacy And Terms Of Use
Donation Payment Method