Migration Narratives: The SHRAM Blog

India’s Internal Migrants: Citizens Without a Vote and a Voice

The issue of political inclusion of the vast mass of India’s internal migrants gained salience when a batch of petitions, filed by a few Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and social activists, came up for hearing before the Supreme Court of India in early 2014. In light of the efforts aimed at extending the franchise to NRIs, these petitioners made a strong case for extending similar benefits to the India’s floating population of internal migrants . Taking cognizance of the petitioners’ concerns, the Court sought the response of the Election Commission of India on the matter. The Commission approached the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai) to conduct a quick desk study on the characteristics of internal migration in India and make recommendations on how it could facilitate the participation of internal migrants in elections. In a counter affidavit, the Commission expressed its reservations about extending similar benefits to internal migrants, stating that “The scheme of the Representation of People Act, 1951, is that a person can be enrolled only at the place where he is ‘ordinarily resident’, the question of any person migrating to a different place from his native place, enrolling himself in the electoral roll of the native place does not arise.” The Commission made it very clear that a migrant had to get himself “enrolled in the electoral roll of the new place, where he is ordinarily resident, and he can then vote in such new place.”

On the question of making an exception to the aforementioned clause for service personnel and NRIs, the Commission’s defense has been far from satisfactory. In the view of the Commission, the “position of a private person cannot be equated with a Government servant/ a person from the Armed Forces as the classification is a reasonable one and the distinction not discriminatory.” Furthermore, the exception made in favor of government servants is also reasonable, given that “such persons are compelled to remain at a place other than their place of ordinary residence, owing to the compulsions of public office held by them in public interests.” Such a position militates against the principle of fairness that the Commission is expected to uphold as part of its constitutional mandate. It is for anybody to guess how ‘fair and inclusive’ elections in this country are when a certain class of citizens are privileged over certain others, owing to reasons that the Commission is best placed to explain. We take this issue to be of critical importance and we look forward to working with the Government of India in framing an appropriate policy response to it.

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