Indians living in the UAE fly home to vote in world's largest democratic election

Non-resident citizens are volunteering at polling stations and encouraging people to take part in countrywide elections

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Thousands of non-resident Indians have returned home to cast their vote in the world’s largest democratic election.

As the election enters the final stretch, with counting set to begin on June 4, those residing abroad say travelling thousands of kilometres to vote is their message to people living in India to get to polling stations as every vote counts.

Some have volunteered at polling stations while others round up friends and family to cast their ballot.

I wanted to give my friends and family in India a message that if I can travel 4,500km to vote, then why don’t you?
Vishnu Ippili, Abu Dhabi resident and NRI

Many who live in Gulf nations have also appealed to fellow Indians abroad to ask their families back home to vote.

Indians residing overseas cannot vote unless they travel to their constituency.

They have repeatedly urged the government to allow them to cast their vote at embassies, via postal ballots or online voting.

Until such legislation is approved, millions of Indians residing abroad must travel home to vote along with about 970 million citizens.

People must have their say

Dubai businessman Ramakant Dixit will accompany his parents in his hometown, Lucknow, in northern India to vote on Monday.

“My father is 80 and mother is 76, and it’s important to me to be home on voting day,” Mr Dixit, 58, told The National on a call from Lucknow.

“I tell my family and friends – no matter who you are voting for, whatever your ideology, please go and vote.”

A longtime supporter of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Dixit has travelled to southern states such as Telangana and Andhra Pradesh where the ruling party is keen to make inroads.

The ruling BJP won by a landslide in 2019, securing 303 parliamentary seats. However, it only won 29 constituencies in five southern states and did not win a single seat in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

“I went to the south to feel the pulse, to understand what is going on,” Mr Dixit said.

“I really believe the BJP will make a dent in the south this time but people must go out and have their say.

“I’m a diehard Modi fan and I think we will win because of the infrastructure, roads and rail projects that are great for people and the country.”

Flying visits

Some Indians living abroad made a quick dash home to vote but they said it was not an easy trip.

Dubai resident Sunil Kumar flew to Hyderabad, in southern India, and returned to the UAE the same afternoon.

He reached the polling booth at 6.30am on May 13 but found several people in the queue.

Mr Kumar, 60, a project co-ordinator, showed them his airline ticket to get ahead in the line so he could report to work in the UAE later that afternoon.

“My wife and I voted as soon as the station opened and I was able to make my 10am flight to Dubai,” he said.

IT manager Vishnu Ippili travelled about 15 hours, including a 10-hour bus ride, to reach a remote village Kalimela in eastern Odisha state.

The Abu Dhabi resident met dozens of Indian expatriates at Hyderabad airport as they arrived to cast their vote.

Mr Ippili, 47, said he made the journey because it was crucial to bring development to his village.

The six-week exercise includes parliamentary and state assembly elections.

“I saw many people travel from Australia, US, Canada and the UK to vote,” Mr Ippili said.

“I wanted to give my friends and family in India a message that if I can travel 4,500km to vote, then why don’t you?”

House calls to encourage voting

Dubai resident NP Ramachandran is in Mumbai hoping to galvanise people to vote on Monday.

The vice president of UAE’s Indian Cultural and Arts Society, which is affiliated with the Congress, voted in Kerala state last month.

Over the past few weeks, Mr Ramachandran, 67, has met about 20 families each day, starting with 9am home visits.

“We go to areas where there are families with relatives living overseas,” he said.

“We talk to them about the Congress candidates we support. We tell them they must utilise their right to vote.

“Sometimes people need a phone call or a visit as motivation.”

Mr Ramachandran said assisting people as an election volunteer in his hometown Thrissur brought him satisfaction.

“Many people don’t know which polling station they should go to and I help them reach the right place,” he said.

UAE-based Congress supporters helped to negotiate cheaper airline tickets too – about Dh340 for a one-way fare to cities in Kerala, which is less than half the normal cost – to encourage people to travel home to vote.

“At least 5,000 people from the UAE voted in Kerala,” Mr Ramachandran said. “There were also people from Saudi, Muscat, Qatar and Kuwait.”

Spreading the party message

KTA Muneer, a Congress supporter from Saudi Arabia, travelled to Kerala, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh to spread his party’s message.

“I travelled to campaign for victory of the Congress-led United Democratic Front alliance,” said Mr Muneer, 49, who runs a travel consultancy in Jeddah.

“We identify places where there are families of NRIs and explain that they will be better looked after and how the Congress will keep in mind the welfare of NRIs when we come to power.”

Dubai resident SV Reddy is part of a team that reaches out to workers in the Gulf region.

“We tell them to call their families at home to vote,” said the president of the Congress NRI Gulf cell.

“We explain how important this is and hope more people listen.”

As part of staggered voting, the next rounds are on May 20, May 25 and June 1.

The results of 543 lower house constituencies will be announced on June 4.

Updated: May 20, 2024, 10:14 AM