19 Apr 2024

India election 2024: Thousands of Kiwi Indians excluded from voting in mammoth Indian election

4:26 pm on 19 April 2024
Polling officials are collecting voting machines and other election materials at polling stations ahead of the first phase of voting for the Lok Sabha elections in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, on April 18, 2024.

Polling officials collect voting machines and other election materials at polling stations ahead of the first phase of voting for the Lok Sabha elections in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Photo: AFP / Vishal Bhatnagar

Indian New Zealanders have expressed frustration that they are missing out on a chance to participate in the world's largest democratic exercise as India begins voting in the 2024 general election.

Spanning six weeks from 19 April to 1 June, nearly 968 million Indians are expected to head to polling booths nationwide in seven phases.

However, countless Indians residing in New Zealand are unable to vote due to electoral laws stating they had to be in India to do so.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are vying for a third successive term, while opposition parties argue that the continuation of his tenure could jeopardise many freedoms.

"I do miss the buzz of Indian elections," said Philips Augustine, who moved to Auckland from southern India in 2017.

"It's a bummer I can't participate (in the Indian election) from New Zealand."

Unlike New Zealand, India does not have a system whereby citizens living abroad can vote in a general election.

But Augustine acknowledged the challenges involved in establishing such a system for a vast country such as India.

"BJP sure has some serious backing in India but, I have to admit, I've got some serious concerns if Modi bags that third term."

He said more recently some Indian voters had tended to prioritise religious and political ideologies over assessing the government's performance.

Augustine underscored the challenges posed by the intertwining of religion and politics, expressing particular concern for minority communities.

"I appreciate Modi's efforts to elevate India's global standing and enhance diplomatic relations, but I believe there's ample room for improvement."

He added that the Modi administration had not effectively addressed issues such as those in Manipur or safeguarded press freedom in India in a manner that would sway his vote in favour of the BJP, if given the opportunity.

Aravind Narayan migrated to New Zealand in 2019 and lives in Hamilton.

He also missed the vibrant energy of Indian elections, especially the media coverage.

"In India, the media plays a significant role during the election, especially when they engage with communities, allowing everyone to voice their opinions," Narayan said.

He thought Modi would return for a third term.

"The opposition seems weak, and Modi's administration has implemented several commendable policies."

Narayan said policies such as Make in India had transformed India into a manufacturing hub attracting gigantic companies like Apple and Tesla.

"The shift from 'Made in China' to 'Made in India' on everyday products is a significant achievement."

Narayan also highlighted Modi's push for a cashless economy that had positioned India as a leader in digital transactions, with innovations such as Unified Payments Interface (UPI) setting global benchmarks.

"Not everything is perfect, but I believe Modi's government has achieved enough to resonate with Indian voters when they head to the polling booths."

Aswathi Surendran relocated from India to Wellington in 2017.

She has never voted in India, but is still an Indian citizen.

"I think Modi has a good chance, at least that's what [the] vast majority of my community thinks," Surendran said.

"I'm troubled by certain policies of the Modi government that seem to suggest authoritarian tendencies but on the flip side I admire how India has grown in the world stage under his term."

Ashley Abraham has spent most of his life outside of India but maintains a keen interest in India and its political landscape.

He moved to Wellington seven years ago after working for several years in the Middle East.

"I was only able to participate in the elections twice in my life and I do miss being part of it," Abraham said.

He viewed elections as integral but believed it was high time radical ideologies were phased out from the political arena.

"I draw inspiration from leaders like the former president of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who prioritised advancements in science and technology regardless of his political affiliations."

Abraham believed Modi stood a good chance of winning the election, owing to a robust leadership that had propelled India to become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Nevertheless, he added a note of caution.

"Modi's government has several areas that warrant improvement, including addressing religious disparities, combating corruption and raising social standards."

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