Indian expatriates mark defeat of communists

Non-resident Indians in Dubai celebrated the results of the elections in their home country at the weekend.

Latheef, from Kerala, reads a Malayalam newspaper to follow the election results from different states in India at a restaurant in Dubai.
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DUBAI // Indian expatriates rose early, gathered round television screens and served up sweets to celebrate the departure of the communist government in Kerala and West Bengal in state assembly elections.

They met to track election news on Friday as results from five assemblies - Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam - were broadcast. Many expatriates said the time had come for change in West Bengal and Kerala because the communists had lost the pulse of the people.

"I am glad we voted the Left out of power," said Yazeed Ellathodi, an Indian national from Dubai who had travelled to Kerala to vote in the state assembly elections on April 13. "It was a neck and neck fight. We were watching the results from six in the morning on a big screen at the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre office. The entire atmosphere was charged as members cheered each time a candidate from the constituency they favoured won."

Hundreds of gathered members later distributed sweets to celebrate the results.

Veteran Congress leader Oomen Chandy was elected yesterday as Kerala's chief minister. The victory followed Congress-led United Democratic Front's win with 72 seats in the 140-member Kerala assembly, after defeating the Left Democratic Front (LDF).

"We can expect the new government to act and look after the welfare of non-resident Indians (NRIs)," said Mr Ellathodi, a member of KMCC, an affiliate of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).

He was among the 169 expatriates who had taken a chartered flight from the Emirates to Kerala to vote for the first time as a non-resident Indian, after the Indian government last year gave voting rights to Indian residents abroad.

"We were expecting the United Democratic Front to win, but nobody expected the margin to be so small," said N P Ramachandran, the general secretary of the Overseas Indian Cultural Congress in Dubai. "However, Congress party has been able to recapture the power with a simple majority."

The organisation will renew its calls for online voting in Indian diplomatic missions overseas, its preference to having voters travel to the subcontinent to cast their ballot. More than 8,800 NRIs, mostly from the Gulf countries, had registered to vote in the Kerala elections. However, only an estimated 4,000 people voted, said Mr Ramachandran. As many as 2,000 Indians had travelled from the Emirates.

Not all expatriates were happy to see the ruling LDF lose its stronghold.

"We thought we would win in Kerala," said Narayan Veliancode, the former general secretary of the Dubai Arts Lovers' Association. "But it really doesn't matter if the party is ruling or if it is in opposition, as it will always work for the welfare of the people. It is only a temporary setback."

He said he did not expect the new government to last for more than a year.

Other residents accused the communists in West Bengal of neglect and arrogance after 34 years in power. They said unemployment and poverty had become rife, and the quality of education and health had deteriorated during three decades of uninterrupted rule.

"As Bengalis, we have always been labelled as communists because the Left has been in power for so long," said Sudip Chakravarty, an expatriate from West Bengal who lives in Dubai. "But, now, that is set to change. However, we have to wait and see how the new chief minister performs."

The Trinamool Congress defeated the Left Front with 225 seats in the 294-member West Bengal assembly. Mamata Banerjee, the head of the party, is set to become the first woman chief minister of the state.

"I am glad the Trinamool Congress has won as the Left government had become quite arrogant, and had lost communication with the people," said Pradeep Sen Sharma, a Bengali expatriate based in Abu Dhabi.

"The Left has championed land reforms that has benefitted a large number of farmers and also helped improve the lives of primary school teachers and municipal workers," Mr Sharma said. "However, it was time for change."

He added: "But, I am not very confident of the Trinamool Congress's capability. There is not much of leadership in the party other than Mamta Banerjee. However, only time will tell."

In Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam came to power after defeating the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party by 203 seats in a 234-member assembly.

In Assam, Congress won with 76 seats in the 126-member assembly, while in Puducherry, the All India NR Congress won 15 seats, and its alliance partner won five seats to stake its claim in the 30-member assembly.