What the Gulf’s Indians want from their election at home

Indian officials prepare election-related material at a distribution centre in Noida in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 11 April 2019

What the Gulf’s Indians want from their election at home

  • The election in the world’s largest democracy will begin on April 11, with voting at one million polling stations across India
  • Those who remain in the Gulf region will not be able to vote, but that doesn’t stop them from having opinions about it

DUBAI: For the first time this year, Mukesh Kalvaniya will not be able to vote in India’s general election, which starts on Wednesday. That’s because he moved to the UAE from his hometown in Rajasthan three years ago, joining millions of Indians in the Gulf who cannot cast a ballot outside of their country.

“I am feeling frustrated that my vote would be wasted,” said the 43-year-old mason, who is working on a private construction project in Dubai. “My country is going to have one of the most crucial elections of recent history. I want the right person (to) be elected from my hometown. If I want the right people to rule my country, then I should also vote.”

The election in the world’s largest democracy will begin on April 11, with voting at one million polling stations across India. About 900 million people, almost triple the entire population of the US, are eligible to vote, including as many as 84.3 million youths for the first time.

However, there is no system for about 8.5 million Indians, the largest non-resident Indian (NRI) population in the world, to vote online or designate a proxy vote, as there is for many expats from other countries who work in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

“We have been reduced to becoming passive watchers. We have no choice but to bear the consequences of the decisions others make,” said Kalvaniya. 

Shankar Ram, a 20-year-old mechanic in Riyadh, is also regretting that he won’t be able to cast his first vote. “I just turned 20 last month. I wanted to go home and cast a vote. But I won’t get holidays in my probation period,” said Ram, who joined his new job three months ago. 

Ram said that he hears a lot of Indians in Riyadh complaining about their country and its system. “If you have a problem, then find a solution. Criticism won’t give you the solution. As an Indian, this is our responsibility to make our country a better place whether we live there or work outside.” 

Like many other overseas Indians, Ram said that he was expecting the government to arrange a way for them to vote, but it didn’t happen. “My vote is important for my country,” he said. “I hope my government also realizes that soon.”

However, many Indians will vote while they are visiting their homes during the election. “I will be in India on vacation when my city goes to the polls,” said Umaid Khan, a cyber-security professional in Dubai. “Instead of getting carried away by the frenzy created by politicians and the media, I will cast my vote based on the qualifications and background of the candidate.”

Khan, who has been based in Dubai for 16 years, believes that the election in India will decide the country’s future. He said that in recent years there has been a disturbing spike in hate crimes in India because of religious extremism. “I want my government to take severe action against intolerance irrespective of the community they belong to,” he said.

Khan said that it was shameful that India has the world’s highest number of malnourished children, despite being one of the world’s largest economies. “Issues such as education, health care, infrastructure, corruption, pollution, ease of doing business, safety and security etc. get submerged when political parties build the narrative based on religions, castes and regional biases.”

According to Surender Singh Kandhari, chairman of Al-Dobowi Group and head of Sikh Gurudwara in Dubai, millions of Indians living in the Gulf want a “clean government” that can address real issues on the ground. “Most non-resident Indians (NRIs) living in the Gulf closely follow what is happening in India. They follow every single action and step taken by the politicians,” he said.

“We need to uplift the weaker sections of the society. We need the per-capita income to go up so that all Indians become prosperous. Each one of them should have shelter, food and good health.”

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) voters in the lead-up to the election. (AFP)

Kandhari described the present electoral landscape in India as very messy. “The ruling party and the opposition are by hook and crook trying to woo the voters just to be in power. None of them mean anything they say,” he said.

If Kandhari is to be believed, NRIs in the Gulf are not pleased with the situation back home, especially with the country’s politicians. “All of them have skeletons in their cupboards. They really do not mean to do good for the country. The motive itself is very selfish,” he said.

Rizwan Sajan, founder and chairman of the Dubai-based Danube Group, is more hopeful. He said that elections in India are a celebration of the world’s largest democracy. 

According to Sajan, most NRIs are long-term investors, and their investment goals and objectives are directed toward creating a future for their children through education and retirement planning. “Hence, such schemes will definitely boost investment by us in the economy of India,” he said, adding that the government should focus more on the rural economy to provide people outside cities with a better future.

Entrepreneur Rehan Khan, who is based in Dubai, said voters must act smartly to send a message to politicians. “Most politicians come from the most uneducated backgrounds, and they take the public for granted,” he said. “Unfortunately, the whole atmosphere this time is so polarized that people are looking at issues only through the prism of religion.” 

He said politicians should focus less on religion and talk only about development. “Only then the country can move ahead. We may be one of the biggest democracies for sure, but we are not the most mature yet.”

Woman shot dead in N.Ireland in ‘terrorist incident’

Updated 19 April 2019

Woman shot dead in N.Ireland in ‘terrorist incident’

  • A car-bombing and the hijacking of two vans in Londonderry earlier this year were blamed on a dissident paramilitary group
  • A 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland between republican and unionist paramilitaries

LONDON: A woman has been shot dead during riots in the city of Londonderry in Northern Ireland and the killing is being treated as a terrorist incident, police said Friday.
Images posted on social media showed a car and van ablaze and hooded individuals throwing petrol bombs and fireworks at police vehicles.
It was not immediately clear who the woman was or who shot her.
“Sadly I can confirm that following shots being fired tonight in Creggan, a 29-year-old woman has been killed,” Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said in a statement on Twitter.
“We are treating this as a terrorist incident and we have launched a murder enquiry.”
The violence came in the run-up to the Easter weekend, when Republicans opposed to British presence in Northern Ireland mark the anniversary of a 1916 uprising against British rule.
A car-bombing and the hijacking of two vans in Londonderry (also known as Derry) earlier this year were blamed on a dissident paramilitary group.
Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Union Party, which is in favor of Britain’s presence in Northern Ireland, described the death as “heartbreaking news.”
“A senseless act. A family has been torn apart. Those who brought guns onto our streets in the 70s, 80s & 90s were wrong. It is equally wrong in 2019. No one wants to go back,” she wrote on Twitter.
A 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to three decades of sectarian bloodshed in Northern Ireland between republican and unionist paramilitaries, as well as British armed forces, in a period known as “the Troubles.”
Some 3,500 people were killed in the conflict — many at the hands of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Police have blamed a group called the New IRA for the flare-up in violence in recent months.
Some have expressed fears that recent attacks could be a sign that paramilitaries are seeking to exploit the current political turbulence over Northern Ireland and its border with the Republic of Ireland caused by Brexit.
Michelle O’Neill, the deputy leader of Irish republican party Sinn Fein, condemned those responsible for the killing.
“My heart goes out to the family of the young woman shot dead by so-called dissidents,” she wrote on Twitter.
“This was an attack on the community, an attack on the peace process and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement,” she added, while calling for calm.