India elections 2019: UAE residents ramp up campaigning efforts as voting ends

From door-to-door visits to writing letters, supporters of the BJP and Congress are encouraging Indians back home to cast their vote

SHARJAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 15 MAY 2019. Mr Chandra Shankar, a Indian National living in the UAE. As the elections draw to a close on Sunday, Indians in the UAE are involved in the final push of campaigning. They send emails, make calls and post WhatsApp messages to friends, family and neighbours of Non-Resident Indians back home. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Ramola Talwar. Section: National.
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Indian residents of the UAE ramped up their campaigning efforts as the final phase of voting for their home country’s parliamentary elections ends on Sunday.

Supporters in the UAE of either the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or the opposition Congress party and its allies have been part of a drive to get families, friends and neighbours in India into the polling booth throughout the six-week election phase.

Hundreds of Non-Resident Indians or NRIs have returned to Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh – three of the eight states that will go to the polls on Sunday – to cast their ballots.

“We have teams in at least three states where people will vote on May 19. Some are helping with campaigning, others make sure that people have registered as voters,” said Chandra Prakash who has lived in the UAE for 24 years and runs a home interior contracting company.

“People from all over the GCC went home for the elections but not everybody can afford it. Those who could not go back to vote are helping with campaigning from here.”

An Indian polling official marks a finger of a voter with ink at a polling station in Gurgaon, in the northern Indian state of Haryana on May 12, 2019, for the sixth phase of India's general election.  Fifty-nine seats are up for grabs across the country on the sixth voting day of the marathon ballot. / AFP / Money SHARMA

Mr Prakash visited Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh last month to assist BJP candidates during the election run.

“Once we know that a family has an NRI relative, we can reach them,” said Mr Prakash, who represents Kerala state in the central NRI committee and has supported the BJP since he was in college.

“People working in the UAE share the email addresses, telephone numbers and postal addresses of their friends and family in India with us.”

He said campaign efforts began long before the elections kicked off on April 11.

“We needed to prepare a substantial database with contacts so this was not a one-day activity. We started almost a year ago and now we are in the final act,” said Mr Prakash.

We expect that Rahul Gandhi will get a record majority in Wayanad that nobody has ever got before in any election

He said he supports the decisions from the current government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including the general sales tax, which combined more than a dozen levies into one national tax, to help goods move across state borders.

“The Indian economy is one of the fastest growing in the world. Tough decisions were needed and this government stepped up reforms in the last five years. India needs a strong government to complete infrastructure and development work and not a divided opposition,” he said.

But Mahadevan Vazhasherry, a Congress party supporter of opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, disagrees.

“Mr Modi is a dream giver who gave people a lot of expectations in 2014 but he has not delivered,” said Mr Vazhasherry, on the phone from Kerala.

“The main agenda of the Congress and other opposition parties is to remove Modi from power. Even if these parties argue and hold different positions, their prime enemy is the BJP. Regardless of their differences, the opposition parties will support the Congress after the elections."

He estimated that 9,000 Congress supporters travelled to Kerala to vote last month during the early phase of polling.

“We wrote thousands of letters to family, friends and neighbours and these were sent by post. People also went on house visits for each candidate,” said Mr Vazhasherry, president of Overseas Indian Cultural Society or Incas which is affiliated with the Congress.

He said southern India was preparing to welcome the Congress leader.

“We expect that Rahul Gandhi will get a record majority in Wayanad that nobody has ever got before in any election. It will be a historic victory for Rahul Gandhi as we expect many more votes from Wayanad than he will get from Amethi.”

Modi’s party previously emerged as a front runner in this election but the loss of three key states in December elections injected fresh resolve in regional parties to take on the BJP.

However, the alliance of 20 parties against the BJP is in trouble in several states with candidates pitted against each other instead of working together.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party swept the polls in 2014 with the party winning a landslide 282 seats. The Congress secured only 44 seats.