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Come elections, aggressive campaigns by political parties address voters encouraging them to vote. The Election Commission of India runs a robust campaign encouraging all Indians to cast their vote. Free and fair elections and universal adult franchise means that all sections of Indians are able to exercise this right. It is a right that expresses a political choice and gives every voter a stake in the election. The Preamble to the Indian Constitution vests the power behind any government in and from the people of India. The people of India express their voice through the vote. Hence, the insistence on voting and the emphasis on the phrase, “every vote counts”.
If every vote does count, the question arises what about those amongst us in the population of voters who are “unable to vote”? What about Migrant labourers or ‘guest workers’? They have their names registered in their home states while they migrate, albeit temporarily, to other states in search of work.
A vast majority of migrant labourers are unable to exercise their franchise due to economic constraints and their inability to undertake the commute to their home states in the one day nation-wide holiday that is declared for Parliamentary elections. They are also unable to cast votes in their host states as they do not fulfil the requirements of “ordinary resident” or usual resident to be registered as a voter of that constituency. That leaves them in a lurch doesn’t it?
According to the 2011 census, the number of internal migrants stands at 45 crores, a 45% surge from the earlier census of 2001.
Among these, 26% of the migration, i.e., 11.7 crores, occurs inter-district within the same state, while 12% of the migration, i.e., 5.4 crores, occurs inter-state.
Circular migration accounts for those migrants that have not permanently relocated to host cities, and instead circulate between host and home cities.
For instance, short term and circular migration could itself amount to 6-6.5 crore migrants, which including family members, could approach 10 crore people.
Half of these are inter-state migrants.
A 2012 study showed that 78% of migrant labourers surveyed possessed voter ID cards and names present on voting lists of their home cities.
One survey shows that only 48% of those surveyed voted in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections when the national average was 59.7%.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, major sender states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh had among lowest voter turnout rates at 57.33% and 59.21% respectively (when the national average was 67.4%).
Legally speaking, the courts have interpreted the right to cast one’s vote as a manifestation of the freedom of speech and expression which is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. So should the migrant workers’ right to freedom of movement (guaranteed under Article 19) should not affect their right to cast their vote.
One solution to this would be to allow migrant workers to cast their votes from their host states in the form of postal ballot. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a total of more than 28 Lakhs votes were received via postal ballots. This provision is made for absentee voters who are unable to be present in their home constituency owing to certain reasons. This means, the Election Commission already has a mechanism in place to facilitate voting for migrant workers and its attention needs to be drawn towards this population of roughly 450 million (as per Census 2011 migrants’ data).
Privileged voters like us, can make our voices heard on behalf of those whose voices go unheard.
Sign this petition and ask the Election Commission of India to fulfil its mission of “no voter gets left behind” by enabling postal ballot for migrant workers. #LetMigrantsVote