Modi govt for voting rights to 2.5 crore. Photo: India Today

New Delhi, India (BBN) – In a big leap towards allowing a 25 million-strong NRI population to cast their franchise in Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, the Modi government on Friday said they will soon be given proxy voting rights.

The government told the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra that it proposes to amend the Representation Of People Act (RPA) for this purpose and intends to introduce a Bill in the ensuing winter session of Parliament, reports India Today.

The government has in principle approved changes in the RPA which deals with elections to permit NRI to cast their vote. If the proposal passes political muster in Parliament, NRIs will be able to exercise their voting rights through proxy. Currently, only service personnel are permitted to vote through proxy.

However, the facility for NRIs will not be the same as that enjoyed by service personnel.
For instance, voters in the Armed Forces can nominate their relatives as permanent proxy to vote on their behalf. But the Union Cabinet’s approval for proxy voting by NRIs carries a caveat – they cannot nominate one proxy for all polls.
According to the proposal, NRI voters will have to appoint a nominee afresh for each election – one person can act as proxy for only one overseas voter.

Until now, due to the high cost of travel and time involved, only a minuscule population of NRIs came to India to cast vote. The court was hearing PILs filed by two NRIs -Shamsheer V P, an NRI from Kerala, and Nagender Chindam, chairman of the UK-based
Pravasi Bharat – seeking the voting rights. “The US lets you vote from space. Texas laws have allowed astronauts the right to vote when on a space mission.
Here, NRIs are pleading for it,” Chindam had said earlier. After the government’s assurance, he said, “This is great news and is one of the key milestones in the path of our longterm campaign for NRI voting. Enabling remote voting rights in a such a large scale would be the first of its kind in the world. We are proud of our democracy.”
In December 2016, the Centre had said it accepted the EC’s proposal in this regard, claimed it formulated a draft Bill, and told the court that steps are being taken to get the Representation of People Act, 1951 amended. But things have not moved since. According to rough estimates, there are about 25 million NRIs 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. The move to grant proxy voting rights to overseas electors is significant against the backdrop of BJP’s claims of enjoying high goodwill among NRIs.
The party sought to deepen its electoral appeal among them through Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach programmes during his foreign visits after coming to power in 2014.