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The Realities of Voting in India

The migratory explosion not only overruns many bordering countries, sometimes overseas, but it also causes internal crises in many countries. Such is the case of India. Seasonal migrants who look for work during the off seasons do not change their voting areas to their place of work and millions are thus prevented to vote."

New Delhi, May 6.– For the first time ever, the Economic Survey, 2017, provided an estimate of internal work-related migration using railways data for the period 2011–16 (GOI 2017). The results showed an average interstate migration of almost nine million people a year. While migrants from the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh largely move to Delhi, Marking the finger of those who have voted in IndiaMarking the finger of those who have voted in IndiaMaharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat, those from the eastern states of Jharkhand and Odisha travel not only to Kolkata in West Bengal, but also to Kerala, in increasing numbers.

According to the 2011 Census, 51 million migrants moved within India for economic reasons, constituting nearly 10% of the labour force. This gives rise to a concern about the political voicelessness of these migrant workers who are unable to practise their voting rights because of economic migration. There are no statistics available on how many migrant workers have changed their constituency to vote at their current work location. Yet, it is intuitively understandable that economic realities—such as daily wage-based work arrangements, and the time and cost of travel to their domicile—will exclude them from the participatory process of voting, which is their constitutional right.

This article tries to understand the various barriers that exclude internal economic migrants from participating in the electoral process by examining the narratives of migrants working as daily wage labourers in Kerala. These migrants are mainly natives of West Bengal and Odisha, who have found work in Kerala largely because of a large number of Keralites moving abroad for work. The current estimate of internal migrants to Kerala is estimated at 3 million, as against 2.2 million international emigrants from the state. The migrants, however, find jobs largely in the informal manufacturing and construction sectors. This article builds on the perspectives from these workers to give an idea about the nature of work and the extent of work-related freedom available to the internal migrants in India.

India as a federal republic and as the largest participatory democracy in the world ensures all its citizens the right to universal adult franchise. This entails that every citizen of India aged 18 or above has the freedom to vote in any election in the country. However, each citizen of India is tied to a specific place to cast their vote, that is, their vote is not portable across regions. This is where the issue of migrant voting rights comes in.

There are three key categories of voters/electors in this country: general electors or Indian residents who can directly cast their votes at a polling booth, service electors or Indian citizens currently working for the Government of India but posted outside India, and the overseas electors or the non-resident Indians (NRIs) ...

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