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India Elections 2024: Thousands of Kiwi Indians banned from voting in massive Indian elections

Polling agents collect voting machines and other election materials at polling stations ahead of the first phase of voting for the Lok Sabha elections in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, on April 18, 2024.

Polling agents collect voting machines and other election materials at polling stations ahead of the first phase of voting for the Lok Sabha elections in Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Photo: Vishal Bhatnagar

Indian New Zealanders have expressed frustration at missing out on an opportunity to participate in the world’s largest democratic exercise as India begins voting in the 2024 general elections.

Over six weeks, from April 19 to June 1, nearly 968 million Indians are expected to go to the polling booths across the country in seven phases.

However, numerous Indians living in New Zealand are unable to vote due to electoral laws that require them to be in India to do so.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are vying for a third consecutive term, while opposition parties argue that continuing his term could jeopardize many freedoms.

“I do miss the hustle and bustle of the Indian elections,” said Philips Augustine, who moved to Auckland from southern India in 2017.

“It is a pity that I cannot participate in the Indian elections from New Zealand.”

Unlike New Zealand, India does not have a system where citizens living abroad can vote in general elections.

But Augustine recognized the challenges of setting up such a system for a vast country like India.

“The BJP certainly has serious support in India, but I have to admit that I have serious concerns if Modi wins that third term.”

He said some Indian voters had recently tended to prioritize religious and political ideologies over assessing the government’s performance.

Augustine underlined the challenges posed by the intertwining of religion and politics, and expressed his particular concern for minority communities.

“I appreciate Modi’s efforts to improve India’s global standing and improve diplomatic relations, but I believe there is plenty of room for improvement.”

He added that the Modi government had not effectively addressed issues like those in Manipur or ensured freedom of the press in India in a manner that would swing his vote in favor of the BJP, if given the opportunity.

Aravind Narayan migrated to New Zealand in 2019 and lives in Hamilton.

He also missed the vibrant energy of the Indian elections, especially the media coverage.

“In India, the media plays an important role during elections, especially when they engage with communities, allowing everyone to express their views,” Narayan said.

He thought Modi would return for a third term.

“The opposition appears weak and the Modi government has implemented several commendable policies.”

Narayan said policies like Make in India have transformed India into a manufacturing hub that has attracted giant companies like Apple and Tesla.

“The shift from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Made in India’ for everyday products is a significant achievement.”

Narayan also highlighted Modi’s push for a cashless economy that had positioned India as a leader in digital transactions, with innovations such as Unified Payments Interface (UPI) setting global benchmarks.

“Not everything is perfect, but I believe Modi’s government has achieved enough to resonate with Indian voters when they go to the polling booths.

Aswathi Surendran moved from India to Wellington in 2017.

She never voted while in India, but is still an Indian citizen.

“I think Modi has a good chance, at least that’s what (the) vast majority of my community thinks,” Surendran said.

“I am concerned about certain policies of the Modi government that seem to suggest authoritarian tendencies, but on the other hand, I admire how India has grown on the world stage under his tenure.”

Ashley Abraham has spent most of his life outside India, but still has a keen interest in India and its political landscape.

He moved to Wellington seven years ago after working in the Middle East for several years.

“I have only been able to participate in elections twice in my life and I miss being part of that,” Abraham said.

He viewed elections as an integral part, but felt that it was high time that radical ideologies were driven out of the political arena.

“I draw inspiration from leaders like former President of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, who prioritized progress in science and technology regardless of his political leanings.”

Abraham believed Modi had a good chance of winning the election, thanks to robust leadership that had led India to become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Nevertheless, he added a warning.

“Modi’s government has several areas that need improvement, including addressing religious differences, fighting corruption and raising social standards.”