Paying taxes, Dh2,300 for travel: UAE's non-resident Indians push for overseas voting

With many residents unable to travel to India during the ongoing general elections, this has become a significant concern among the diaspora

by

Nandini Sircar

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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Published: Tue 21 May 2024, 7:20 PM

Last updated: Tue 21 May 2024, 11:10 PM

Non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the UAE feel excluded due to the inability to vote, denying them a crucial democratic voice in their homeland's affairs.

Many residents are unable to travel to India during the ongoing general elections. This issue has become a significant concern among the diaspora, particularly in regions with large NRI populations such as the UAE.


Speaking to Khaleej Times, several Indian residents highlighted that despite living abroad, they remain emotionally and culturally connected to their homeland.

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They stressed that establishing a system that enables them to vote would ensure their voices are heard in shaping the future of India.

Missed opportunity

Arogya Reddy, who is the Principal of a Sharjah-based school, is unable to travel to India due to his commitments here.

Reddy, who has been living in this region for 12 years said, “I feel I’ve missed the opportunity to vote at least twice now. I really regret this. The authorities should introduce NRI ballots in the Indian missions. The (Indian) government must facilitate this. There are many other (countries) embassies and consulates that organise this for their citizens who live abroad. People can cast their votes through postal or online ballots. I think everyone has a right to vote despite living in a foreign country.”

The staggered Indian elections, currently underway, are scheduled to continue until June 1. Nearly 970 million eligible voters, constituting over 10 per cent of the global population, will cast their ballots to elect 543 members to the lower house of Parliament for a five-year term.

The last two general elections in 2014 and 2019 saw rates of 66.4 per cent and 67.4 per cent, triggering worries of about around 300 million 'missing' voters.

Paying taxes

Meanwhile, NRIs in the UAE are trying to press for electronic or postal ballots which if implemented successfully in the future could prove to be ‘transformative’, visibly boosting voter participation.

Another resident, Arijit Nandi, who is unable to go to India to vote this time, said, “So many NRIs live in the Gulf region. There is a strong connection for NRIs here because a lot of funds are repatriated back to India either in properties or in fixed deposits. Both these attract income for NRIs but they also attract taxes which they have to pay. This segment is not living in the country but they're paying taxes. Therefore, something as basic as the right to vote should definitely be provided to NRIs so that they can have a say in choosing their representative. Otherwise, there is a sense of disenfranchisement.”

Arijit Nandi
Arijit Nandi

Since 2011, NRIs have had the opportunity to vote, with established procedures in place. However, despite this provision, NRIs must still be physically present in their constituencies to cast their votes.

Since 2020, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has been actively exploring alternative methods to enable overseas voters to participate in elections. Discussions have been initiated to assess the feasibility of utilising postal ballots for this purpose. Additionally, the ECI's website features a dedicated link for overseas voters to register.

Residents undertake multimodal travel

Dubai resident Priyadarshee Panigrahi is undertaking a journey back to the eastern state of Orissa, to participate in the elections out of a sense of responsibility.

But he highlighted it is both inconvenient and expensive and an issue that the government of India needs to look into seriously.

“For me, I have a deep-rooted belief in the democratic process. I am determined to contribute to shaping my homeland's future. This is a once-in-a- five-year opportunity to take part in decision-making, which will drive the future of the country for the next five years," he said.

Priyadarshee Panigrahi
Priyadarshee Panigrahi

Panigrahi was ill at ease at the thought that he would not be able to go to India to participate in this "humongous festival of democracy". Although, after managing to book his tickets, he is at peace that he will be dong his bit by casting his vote.

However, he stressed that he is spending nearly Dh2,300 on his air, train, and road trip to reach his hometown for a stay that will last for less than 36 hours.

“I am taking multimodal transport, because the direct flight will require a longer leave from work. That’s because the place where I wish to fly doesn’t have a daily direct flight. I am going from Dubai to Kolkata by air, Kolkata to Jharsuguda by train, and Jharsuguda to Sambalpur by road.”

Appealing to the Indian mission, he emphasised it would be an empowering experience if UAE missions could implement a reliable system for recording votes and reflecting the diaspora’s choices.

“We pay taxes on the income that we generate in India. Voting rights will make us feel franchised and not excluded. It will be a great thing if UAE missions adopt some kind of a foolproof method of recording our votes.”

Voted in every general election

Similarly, Dubai resident Ansoo Gupta, who is originally from Noida, Uttar Pradesh (UP), recently voted in her hometown where she was registered.

She mentioned that during her upbringing, it was instilled in her that voting was a civic duty.

Ansoo Gupta
Ansoo Gupta

Gupta, who works in the field of digital marketing, said, “Wherever we are, we try and go back to cast our votes. I have voted in every general election. I was in Singapore for work during those days, but I made sure that I planned my trip in such a way so that I could take a halt in India for voting and then come back to Dubai."

"I understand I am in the UAE which is closer to India, but for people living in faraway countries it’s even more challenging. Therefore, India must adopt a reliable method to ensure that the electoral process becomes more inclusive," she added.

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