Tibetans exercise their right to vote in Indian general elections

An exiled Tibetan couple Tashi Dhondup and his wife Wangdon show their voter's identity cards and fingers marked with indelible ink after casting vote at a polling station in the seventh and the last phase of Indian general elections in Bhagsu Nath near McLeod Ganj, India, on 19 May 2019.

An exiled Tibetan couple Tashi Dhondup and his wife Wangdon show their voter's identity cards and fingers marked with indelible ink after casting vote at a polling station in the seventh and the last phase of Indian general elections in Bhagsu Nath near McLeod Ganj, India, on 19 May 2019. Tibet Sun/Lobsang Wangyal

By Lobsang Wangyal

McLEOD GANJ, India, 19 May 2019

India concluded its mammoth general elections at 6pm today after a marathon seven phases of voting, in which 900 million people are eligible to vote. People of Tibetan origin born in India also took part to elect the next government in Delhi.

The people’s mandate will be heard on the 23rd when the EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) votes will be counted. Following the outcome, the party (or a coalition) that secures 272 or more seats of the total 543 in the Parliament will form the new government and elect a new prime minister.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) gave voting rights to Tibetans according to the Citizenship Act of India, which says anybody born in India between 1950 and 1987, and their children, are citizens of India by birth. In a circular by ECI on 7 February 2014 the regional election commissions were ordered to enrol Tibetans as voters.

Since then many Tibetans have registered to vote, and cast their first ballot in the Indian general elections in May 2014, in the year that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won and Narendra Modi was made the prime minister.

It’s not known how many Tibetans in India have registered to vote, as there are no figures available for the scattered Tibetans who live in small numbers across India, the majority of them in South India’s Karnataka state.

The number of Tibetans in India according to the 2009 census of the Central Tibetan Administration was 95,000, but many have left since then to other countries, particularly the US, Canada, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Australia.

The unofficial figure of Tibetans living in India is now less than 60,000, considering 15,000 Tibetans in New York City, another 15,000 around the rest of the US, 10,000 in Toronto, 8,000 in Switzerland, 7,000 in France, 5,000 in Belgium, and 3,000 in Australia.

“There weren’t a large number of Tibetan voters, but people did come, including monks,” said an election official at one of voting booths in Bhagsu where people from McLeod Ganj cast their votes.

Speaking to Tibet Sun, Tashi Dhondup said, “I don’t know much about Indian politics and who would make a good government, but I came to fulfil my duty to vote as now we have been given the right to vote.”

“I don’t think there will be change in the Tibetan issue, but there may be change in our daily lives. I voted for the party of my choice as I feel that party will make a strong government in Delhi.”

Tashi’s wife Wangdon expressed similar views, saying it’s good to fulfil their civic duty. They both have voted for the same party.

The Tibetan administration in McLeod Ganj neither encourages nor discourages Tibetans from becoming Indian voters. “The decision to apply for Indian or any other country’s citizenship is a personal choice. If you are eligible, you can apply. The Tibetan administration has no right nor does it intend to interfere in a person’s fundamental rights,” CTA President Lobsang Sangay had said.

The main contest in the elections is between the ruling BJP led by Modi and the Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi. BJP ran an aggressive nationalist and Hindu-first campaign in a country that has an 80% Hindu of India’s 1.3 billion people, hoping to secure a second straight term.

The Congress party campaigned for bringing the country’s ailing economy under control through a minimum income guarantee scheme, Nyuntan Aay Yojana (Nyay), that will assure up to Rs 72,000 a year or Rs 6,000 a month income to 20 per cent of India’s poorest families, waive loans for farmers, and generate employment for youths.


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