In view of the fact that India doesn’t provide option of proxy voting to its domestic people who migrate to other states, is it fair to give such an option to NRIs who live far off. Give arguments in support of your answer. (150 W/10 M)

Mentors Comment:

The issue pertains to the amendments to RPA through which, government is going to extend the practice of proxy voting to overseas electors. Lok Sabha passed the amendments recently.

  • In the intro, simply describe the amendments and discuss what is proxy voting and postal ballot.
  • Then discuss the advantages and disadvantages of extending proxy voting to overseas voters.
  • Before going for the way forward, give your opinion, as in whether its good or bad. And how your arguments could make your opinion strong. But if you are against the move then don’t be overly critical and try to provide way forward to the government.

 

Model Answer:

Recently, Lok Sabha passed a Bill that proposes to allow non-resident Indians to use proxies to cast votes on their behalf in Indian elections. Currently, only service personnel are permitted to vote through proxy. To make proxy voting for NRIs a reality, government introduced bill to amend the Representation of People Act.

Proxy voting and Voting by Postal Ballot:

  • Voting in an Indian election can be done in three ways — in person, by post and through a proxy.
  • Under proxy voting, a registered elector can delegate his voting power to a representative.
  • This was introduced in 2003 for elections to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies, but on a limited scale.
  • Only a “classified service voter” — a definition that includes members of the armed forces, BSF, CRPF, CISF, General Engineering Reserve Force and Border Road Organisation — is allowed to nominate a proxy to cast vote on his behalf in his absence.
  • A classified service voter can also vote by postal ballot.
  • Postal ballot voting describes the method of voting in an election whereby ballot papers are distributed or returned by post.

The proxy voting facility for Overseas Electors:

  • One person can act as the proxy for only one overseas elector.
  • Only a person already enrolled in the same constituency, in which the overseas elector is enrolled, can be appointed as proxy for overseas elector.
  • All Indian passport holders who are physically not in India at the time of voting, will be benefited.
  • PIO/OCI card holders cannot vote.

How is it fair:

  • The government’s decision to allow NRIs to vote could emerge as a decisive force in the country’s electoral politics as there are 114 countries that conduct such voting.
  • It will enable India to provide voting rights to NRIs which are enshrined to be given under Article 326.
  • There are about 1 crore Indians settled abroad, of which 60 lakh could be of eligible voting age. They could hold considerable sway in election and make democracy more inclusive.
  • This decision also, historically, removes an “unreasonable restriction” posed by Representation of the People (Amendment) Act of 2010, requiring overseas electors to be physically present in their constituencies to cast their votes.
  • There are 10 million Indian citizens staying abroad. The additional votes, polled through this way, will obviously play a crucial role in state and general elections.
  • The traditional argument against such external voting has been that NRIs lack knowledge of domestic conditions.
  • But, today with increased awareness among people who live in other nations, India’s move towards enabling voting from overseas is an instance of a larger global trend towards increased citizen participation.

Disadvantages of Proxy Voting:

  • There are arguments that proxy voting threatens the core of democracy as we are giving special privilege to those who have migrated abroad, when there are more domestic migrants who seek to have voting rights.
  • Political parties stand divided on proxy voting.
  • Many feared that the proxy voter may not vote as per the wishes of the overseas voter.
  • It suffers from an inherent problem of ‘trust deficiency’.
  • It violates the principle of ‘secrecy of voting’ and ‘free and fair elections’.
  • Former election commissioners too have expressed apprehensions in the past about proxy voting for NRIs.
  • There are arguments that, when the Constitution talks of ‘one Indian one vote’, how can a proxy cast multiple votes.
  • The Bill violated many provisions of Constitution including Article 19. It is against level-playing field as regional parties will not have the wherewithal to campaign in foreign countries.
  • At present, the expenditure of candidates and parties is watched closely within the geographical limits of the electoral constituency.
  • But it will be tough to keep a watch on expenditure incurred outside the country.

What could make it better?

  • The move is a step in the right direction.
  • The government must ensure that system of proxy voting is not misused by anyone.
  • EC must frame rules in such a way that if proxy voting is misused, it will lead to cancellation of the mandate.
  • Provisions should be made to allow migrant workers to vote at their place of residence
  • Educating the voters and officials concerned properly.
  • At the same time, EC will have to impress upon voters the need to preserve the secrecy of the ballot by providing an individual security code.
  • Initially, its trial should be limited to certain seats only where the number of overseas voters is good.
  • If the proposal works efficiently, we could consider extending similar postal/proxy voting options to senior citizens and the physically challenged.

Time for proxy voting is ripe in Indian electoral system with youth of India knocking on the doors of democracy as they are getting eligible to vote now. The efficiency of this whole model will rest on the efficiency of election commission and its machinery.