Candidates offering free air ticket to NRI for voting to face disqualification: EC

Any candidate canvassing for votes overseas found luring NRI voters with a free air ticket to cast his vote may lose his candidature or just land up in jail, the Election Commission has warned.

Sunil Arora, Chief Election Commissioner. Photo courtesy: PIB
Sunil Arora, Chief Election Commissioner. Photo courtesy: PIB

In exhaustive guidelines laid out by the EC on conduct of candidates and voters in the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections, the top poll conducting authority has said the candidate was free to go overseas for canvassing.

"All expenditure incurred by those candidates, their party agents or party leaders on their travel, boarding, lodging etc. who travel to overseas countries for the purpose of canvassing in their favour to seek votes of overseas electors residing there, would be deemed to be the expenditure incurred or authorized by the candidates in connection with their election and will have to be included in their account of election expenses," the EC said.

"Moreover, any inducement to overseas electors by way of air tickets or any other allurements to them, in cash or kind, to come to India for the purpose of voting at the election would amount to the electoral offence of ‘bribery’ within the meaning of section 171B of the IPC as also the corrupt practice of ‘Bribery’ within the meaning of section 123(1) of the Representation of the People Act.

The Election Commission had sought to clear the air on latest rules on voting by the NRI in view of increased interest in every party to get their share in the NRI vote pie. On the other hand, there is manifold increase in interest of NRIs and People of Indian Origin (PIOs) in Indian politics as well, especially after increased engagement of India in global affairs and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government taking proactive interest in engaging Indian diaspora who are invariably well off and hold important positions in government, business and industry in various countries. There are 71,735 overseas electors enrolled in the current electoral rolls in India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at community reception in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Indian government's proactive outreach and relaxed voting rules has triggered enthusiasm among the NRIs around the world to take part in Indian political process. Photo courtesy Ministry of External Affairs
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a community reception in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Indian government's proactive outreach and relaxed voting rules has triggered enthusiasm among the NRIs around the world to take part in the Indian political process. Photo courtesy: Ministry of External Affairs

The Commission had also scotched the rumours of online voting by NRI, stating categorically that there was no such facility extended to the overseas electors. The Commission had taken a serious note of this and has filed a complaint with the police to investigate the source of this false news.

There is also no provision of "proxy voting" yet for NRIs as the bill pertaining to that has been passed in Lok Sabha but has not been passed yet by Rajya Sabha on account of some serious issues regarding establishing the identity and the actual will of the original voter.

So, all an NRI will have to do is to travel in person to India to cast his vote, go to the booth where he is registered, find his name in the rolls and show passport as identity proof.

Number of NRIs participating in Pravasi Bharatiya Divas has increased manifold over the recent years, underscoring their increased interest to be part of India story. Photo courtesy Uttar Pradesh government.
Number of NRIs participating in Pravasi Bharatiya Divas has increased manifold over the recent years, underscoring their increased interest to be part of India story. Photo courtesy: Uttar Pradesh government.

NRIs have been allowed to vote after the Parliament in 2010 amended the Representation of the People Act, after it equated an NRI to an "ordinary resident." A campaign to involve NRIs in the electoral process goes hand in hand with EC's flagship voter education programme SVEEP (Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation) which has been launched well in advance to connect with voters of all categories in the States and UTs down to the polling station level.

The Commission is working on the premise of ‘No Voter to be Left Behind’ in its endeavour to realise universal adult suffrage. Voter education connects people to the elections. Under directions of the Commission, state SVEEP Plans have been developed, approved and the implementation is being closely monitored.

In view of the fact that VVPAT shall be used with every EVM at each Polling Station, special campaign, including hands-on experience, has been undertaken to enhance awareness. Voter Helpline 1950 has been activated across the country to cater to the voters' queries and in addition, Voter Helpline App has also been launched. SMS facility has been made available at 1950 to enable electors to verify their names on the Electoral Roll.

Author
Pradeep Rana
Pradeep Rana – Senior Correspondent

Pradeep Rana has worked as a journalist with news ​agencies UNI and PTI, newspapers Indian Express and The Times Of India, and television channel NHK as South Asia Correspondent. He has also worked as Media Analyst at US Embassy, and edited several magazines and a medical handbook.

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