Non Resident Indians (NRI) may soon get the right to elect representatives to Parliament and various State assemblies. However, migrant labourers, who form the backbone of our economy, will not get this privilege. The Centre and the Election Commission conveyed the same to the Supreme Court on Monday. In its deposition to the Supreme Court, the Election Commission cited complex logistical problems behind conferring voting privileges to migrant workers at the place of their work. Such a reality flies in the face of Indian democracy. Anybody over 18 years or above, irrespective of caste, creed, colour, cash, community and education is allowed to vote except in cases, when a person is specifically disqualified by law. Although one could applaud the Centre’s decision to allow NRIs to vote, the failure to ensure similar facilities to internal migrants, mostly unorganised labour is a cause for much concern. The irony is greater that over 70 per cent of the internal migrants are proud holders of voter I-cards, as it has become the critical document for availing other facilities like acquiring ration from the public distribution system or opening a bank account through Jan Dhan Yojana.
Unfortunately a majority of them end up not exercising their right to vote since they could be away at a place of work that is far removed from their permanent residence. Neither the Centre nor the Election Commission has bothered to create any scheme, whereby voters belonging to Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal or Chhattisgarh, who work in the cold climes of Himalayan states building roads for the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), have a say in choosing their representative in the State assembly or the Lok Sabha. These people work at such distances from their hearth, since opportunities close to home are not forthcoming. Their desire for change can only get manifested if they have the opportunity to vote.