Author: Patrick Ward

Patrick Ward
I am a journalist originally from London, now in Bournemouth studying an MA in multimedia journalism. My interests include international politics, social movements and pretty much anything journalism related.
26Apr

Mumbai MPs will have a difficult task pleasing its diverse population

Malabar Hill

You would have to have been living under a rock wearing cast iron earplugs not to have known there was an election going on in Mumbai. Weeks of rallies, megaphone wielding volunteers and mass leafleting sessions have been part of daily life here in India’s biggest city, and it would be difficult for any of its 13 million inhabitants not to have walked under the smiling faces of the major candidates as they peered down from massive billboards along every main road.

So there wasn’t much else on the minds of Mumbaikars — those who were awake, that is — from 7am on April 24 when the voting stations opened. The streets were strangely quiet — it being a public holiday — with even cabbies nowhere to be seen, and the air rather still, where there was usually the unending cacophony of car horns.

I spent the day in several areas of Mumbai South. The constituency is probably one of the most representative of Mumbai as a whole — from the slums of Byculla to the luxurious gardens of wealthy Malabar Hill. At a polling station on touristy Colaba Causeway, the first voters came in dribs and drabs from just after polls opened. The first were the older generation, who unanimously spoke of their pride and duty in taking part in the poll.

Eric Roche proudly presented his inked finger. He said his priorities in choosing a candidate were development and unity. “Uniting people is very important, or there’s fighting all over,” he said.

Development was also a top priority for Italia Rohinton. He thought a Bharatiya Janata Party victory was likely this time round, in part because people had suffered enough from rising prices. “They are not controlling the prices,” he said. “That’s the first thing the government must do. The first thing.”

Several others made the same point about prices, but some, like T B Delal, said that in order to achieve this a stable government was needed. “There’s no point in voting for regional parties,” he said.

But for Kamal, a young woman who stopped to vote on her way to work, the important issue could be summed up in one word: secularism. “I’m confident of the result,” she said over her shoulder as she briskly continued down the street.

Others were clearly tired of all the ballot options, but the principle of voting was what mattered. Jon was in a hurry, but what was important to him? “Today everything is important,” he said. “But I’ve been voting for so many years, and nothing ever comes of it.”

Colaba is a mixture of the various elements of Mumbai. To see what the richer folk think, I took a trip to Malabar Hill – the wealthiest part of Mumbai, and possibly all of India. Interestingly, the framing of the election issues had suddenly changed — now it seemed to be, who would best represent the local Marathi population?

Mangesh was part of a huddle surrounding an election information desk in the street. For him, it was all about getting Narendra Modi in as the next prime minister. “Corruption is the most important thing for me,” he said, “so it’s most important that Modi wins.”

At that point Sanjay pulled up on his scooter, its front adorned with a Shiv Sena sticker. “I’m not sure who’ll win,” he said. “Marathi votes are divided.” But if Shiv Sena and the BJP get the man in they want, “there will be 100% change”.

When I popped into an expensive Western coffee shop, the young counter staff were keen to hear who I was rooting for. “BJP?” they asked, “or Shiv Sena?” Nearly as an afterthought, one of them added, “Or Congress?”

In the taxi ranks at the top of the hill near an entrance to Kamala Nehru Park,  driver Rushan Taerri said he wanted a “strong man” leading the country — and that man was Rahul Gandhi. “Modi’s just the new guy,” he said. “He’s not confident at making decisions.”

The final part of the jigsaw that is South Mumbai was Byculla — a mixture of Marathis, slum residents and minorities, a far cry from the glistening glass high rises of Malabar Hill. At one voting booth a stone’s throw from the market, the final groups of voters were coming in.

Shailesh and Raika came with their children. “People want change,” said Shailesh, “and they are all coming to vote today for that.” He said that corruption had to be tackled, because it could be seen all over the world.

For his wife Raika, it boiled down to one thing: “Security for women.” “Write good about our election,” she said as she left, kids in tow behind her.

A young police officer closed the gates and started to turn latecomers away. “It’s very important for people to come and vote,” he said, after asking me a few questions about who I was. “Everyone cares about the election, it’s a very proud day.”

He said he had seen thousands of people through the day, and that his polling station had seen a high turnout. “I’ve been working for the past two days, but I’m proud to do that,” he added.

Mumbai saw a 53% turnout on the day, an 11% increase on 2009 but still lagging behind many other parts of India. Mumbai South saw 54%, not a huge improvement. But it seemed that political understanding was quite high among Mumbaikars, at least about what issues were important to them. Perhaps, with fears over disunity under Modi, corruption under Congress, and the unknown territory of the new Aam Aadmi Party, there was some hesitation in making their electoral mark. But it’s clear that whoever wins will have a difficult task to please the diverse mix of residents in Mumbai South.

Photo: Patrick Ward

23Apr

The big match before the final showdown in Mumbai

rahul-modi

The big match took place over two hot, dusty evenings in Mumbai’s MMRDA ground in suburban Bandra Kurla Complex. It was originally billed as being Sonia Gandhi, representing the incumbent Congress, versus Narendra Modi, the resurgent upstart whose bombastic speeches are taking the country — or at least part of it — by storm. A few substitutions later, it was eventually Sonia’s son Rahul Gandhi who wore the Congress colours, while Modi formed a tag team with ally and Shiv Seva president Uddhav Thackeray.

Tens of thousands of people attended both events — and it was difficult to discern which side won on numbers. Either way, it would have been a good night for taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers, as crowds swarmed in from around the state to support their man.

The Mumbai police said it was actually Rahul Gandhi who gained the edge, bringing what they say were around 50,000 supporters, while the BJP and allies had “just” 40,000 for the BJP and allies.

The crowds at the Congress rally seemed younger and more energetic as they stood on the road waiting to enter the rally. People wore the party colours as they swarmed towards the security gates at the entrance to the main event.

Their concerns were widely shared: Modi was a “fascist” without an economic plan, and relied on big business donations to spread his propaganda. But could the Congress win? “Let us hope so, because Modi’s propaganda machine is strong,” said Deepak, an older Congress supporter from Mumbai.

congress-crowd

Sonia Gandhi had pulled out of the first rally at the last minute, citing ill health. But this didn’t seem to dampen spirits too much. People liked Rahul’s more combative speech, as he took on Modi’s “divisive” politics and boasted of how many Maharashtra residents the UPA had pulled out of poverty.

As his speech drew to a close, dozens of his supporters crammed their way into the hitherto tightly controlled press area, pushing themselves to the fence to shake his hand.

Modi’s rally the following day did seem busier, but the crowds outside were more organised as they shuffled their way through the metal detectors into the audience area.

There was less chanting, and fewer people had made the effort to decorate themselves with their party colours than the previous day. But it seemed to be more politically plural — among the BJP members were significant numbers wearing Shiv Sena badges and Republican Party of India-Athavale sashes. Orange and white cut-out masks of Modi were worn by many, of various political backgrounds.

Businessman Deepak Desai said Modi was a man with a “vision”, who stuck to his plans “right or wrong”. “Modi put Gujarat on the world map,” he said. “Things happened in the past with the riots. But to go ahead you have to keep going forward.” He added that there were many Muslims in the BJP as well.

There was at least one Muslim at the rally. But ‘Sameer’ (name changed), a young man from Mumbai, said he was a Congress supporter.

“Modi had bad words for Muslims,” he said in a hushed voice. “I have come here to see him and to tell Muslims what he plans to do.”

A few teenagers were happy to speak about Modi. Why did they support him? “We just go with the flow,” said one of them, before an older man, who seemed to be the head of their delegation, pushed in front of him to explain Modi’s appeal — Gujarat, strength, a bright future.

Modi’s speech seemed to get a better reaction from the crowd than his rival’s. There were bouts of applause and standing ovations, and chanting intermittently erupted across the area.

modi-supporters

His speech was far longer, too, lasting nearly an hour compared to Rahul’s 35 minutes. He wanted India to match South Korea’s standing in the world, he said, and accused his opponent of “poverty tourism”.

Several hundred of those gathering were eager to leave by this point, and started to make their way back out of the enclosure. Others weren’t so happy about that, and cajoled them, with some even blocking their paths.

As for who won, the crowds seemed relatively evenly matched, and while Rahul was in good form he didn’t seem to be able to compete with the bruising words of Modi. Also, while the Modi crowd may have had a more conservative feel about them, their enthusiasm was more widespread.

As the masses made their ways home — on what could be considered, if nothing else, several good nights for taxi drivers — clouds of dust rose from the arena and spread into the Bandra streets. It will settle soon, in a few hours, when Mumbai goes to the polls.

Images: Patrick Ward (the main image is a Photoshop manipulation of campaign photographs)

This story also appeared on Rediff.com, our media partner

22Apr

‘Politicians shouldn’t forget that they are chosen by the people’

The election hung heavy in the air over the wealthy tourist hot-spot of Colaba Causeway in the Mumbai South constituency. Everyone had an opinion, from businessmen to beggars, about who should form the next government in India.

The election hung heavy in the air over the wealthy tourist hot-spot of Colaba Causeway in the Mumbai South constituency. Everyone had an opinion, from businessmen to beggars, about who should form the next government in India and what priorities it should have.

It was often others who started the conversation – would I like to buy a map of Mumbai? Or perhaps a scarf – genuine cashmere? But most people were willing – after some haggling – to give their views on what they want from the candidates they plan to vote for on April 24.

Hitesh Chhabria is the owner of Immediate Boutique and is rooting for the Congress. “People are scaring other people into voting for Narendra Modi,” he said. “He is working the media well.”

Chhabria said he could see the difference a Congress government had made to the area, and wanted it to continue. “I’ve seen India 10 years ago, and I’ve seen India now. There’s a lot of difference,” he said. But he did have his reservations. “Politics is politics, people want to fill up their pockets,” he said.

Boutique owner Hitesh Chhabria is rooting for the Congress

Would he ever think about Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party as an alternative?

“Maybe,” he said. “The AAP is a good thing. But Kejriwal is so small, and they are not letting him jump.”

A South African man who was in the shop chipped in to say he didn’t know much about Indian politics, but  there was only one candidate he noticed thanks to wall-to-wall advertising: “The guy with the beard.”

As we spoke, several dozen AAP supporters, wearing their trademark white caps and waving the party’s symbolic brooms in the air, marched down the street, loudly telling people to give their party a chance in the election. Diwan Chandres, who works for an internet service provider, was part of the procession. “People are very supportive here,” he said. “Everyone is against corruption.”

But does a young party have a genuine chance of winning here? “We have a 99 per cent chance of winning,” he said. That much? “Scientists, businessmen, students, taxi drivers, hawkers and doctors – all over India, people want the AAP and don’t want corruption.”

The AAP candidate, former Royal Bank of Scotland banker Meera Sanyal, might seem a strange choice for the aam aadmi [common man]. Her website even includes a quotation from Ayn Rand, a favourite of the right-wing Tea Party in the US. But that didn’t seem to make a difference to many on Colaba Causeway. In fact, the AAP was the most visible party on the road, with dozens of street merchants proudly wearing the official cap of the party.

Further along the road, Preety Virle was behind the counter at the Himalaya Wellness health shop. “All the parties are the same,” she said. “But you have to vote — that’s our right. I would like to try the Bharatiya Janata Party. We’ve had Congress for 10 years, but no change. I want to get inflation down. For working class people like me, our salaries are so low, we find it very difficult to cover our basic needs.”

Another person finding life difficult was Laxmi Jadhu, a beggar. She was carrying her small baby as she asked people to buy her milk powder among the busy market stalls. “I will vote, but I don’t know for whom,” she said. “I just hope the new government will do more for poor people. But I don’t know who will do that.”

Dipa Tambe, from the John Player clothing shop, said he just wanted to see some results from politicians on issues like pollution in the city. “Some of them are cheaters, some are good,” he said. I asked him to name names. “The Congress is good, and AAP have good people,” he said. “But we will only know after the election.”

True to the entrepreneurial spirit of the street, several people I spoke to said they had no opinion at all about the election — but that they might develop one if I bought whatever they were selling.

Two men, who asked not to be named, said their stall had been confiscated by the police that morning — and were angry that, they believed, the only way to get their stock back would be to “pay under the table”. They did not want to be drawn into a discussion about who they would vote for, but said corruption was a big issue for them.

“I will tell you everything if you buy us some beers,” one of them said. I thought that perhaps that wasn’t the best way to get the story, and declined.

It was starting to get late, so I got into a cab and went to Marine Drive to speak to some of the people lining the bay, sitting on the wall taking selfies against the sunset and buying fruit juice from street vendors.

The sky turns a pinkish hue as the sun sets over Mumbai's Marine Drive.

Mohammed Asif Gandhi, a young mechanical engineer, was tapping away at his laptop when I interrupted him. “I’m not very interested in the election,” he said. “We just need the right sort of people, but so far it hasn’t been encouraging.”

He was annoyed the focus on the election seemed to be negative campaigning. “They need to do the job properly, but many politicians don’t focus on the job. They just try to focus on the negative points of others.” Gandhi added his vote would go to a person, not a party — but he preferred to keep exactly who that was to himself.

Also wishing to keep their voting intentions to themselves were Sandhya and Brij Gupta, both government workers. Sandhya said she was disappointed that more people didn’t take the time to vote, but was happy turnout was higher this time round.

“Everyone should do their best,” she said. “But politicians shouldn’t forget that they are chosen by the people.”

Photographs: Patrick Ward

This story was also published in Rediff.com, our media partner

18Apr

The men (and women) you voted for in the first 5 phases

A breakdown of candidates in the first five stages of the election offers a fascinating insight into the declarations made by this year’s Lok Sabha hopefuls. Here’s a data visualisation — the results might surprise you.

Criminal cases

See the proportion of candidates with criminal cases against them by party and by state. The interactive graphics also show those with serious criminal cases – which includes murder, rape and robbery.

Candidate assets

The chart shows assets held by the average party candidate.

Gender

The majority of candidates so far have been male (92.7%) – just 7.29% are women.

Education

Now a breakdown of candidates by their educational achievements. Just over half are educated at degree level or above.

Age range

Finally, a wide spread of ages for candidates. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common age group is 41-50.

Information on 3,305 of 3,355 candidates was analysed. Data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch, based on sworn affidavits from candidates.

This story was also published on Rediff.com, our media partner.

 

17Apr

In a Mumbai constituency, a Congress candidate counts on the poor

Congress politician Priya Dutt at a rally in Mumbai. Photo: Patrick Ward

Against the background of an apparent Bharatiya Janata Party resurgence, it was a chance for the party faithful to rally together. And in the Mumbai north central constituency, Congress members seemed confident that incumbent Priya Dutt could defeat challengers from the BJP and also those who might split the anti-BJP vote — the Aam Aadmi Party and the Samajwadi Party.

The inauguration of the Congress election headquarters saw hundreds of supporters cram into a makeshift meeting place by the side of the road in Kalina, a western Mumbai suburb. There was little applause. But people seemed to welcome the speeches from top party figures, including Dutt herself and Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

Before the event, Dutt, the sister of Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, said the campaign was “very hectic and very good”. She dismissed worries about the challenge from a resurgent BJP, but also the Samajwadi Party and the AAP.

“The AAP won’t make a huge difference,” she said. “This time people are much more aware of what is happening and who they are voting against. They can see the vote is not divided — they are clear-headedly considering their vote.”

Dutt’s rivals are focusing on what they say is her lack of engagement with her largely slum-residing constituents. They claim she has done little to improve conditions in an area in sore need of improved infrastructure.

“I will be honest, all the other candidates don’t live in the area,” she said. “They had nothing else against me. A lot has been in the media in advertising, a lot of negative campaigning.”

Dutt reeled off a list of her regular engagements: Six months a year at the Lok Sabha in Delhi; work for her charitable trust; attending her monthly medical camps; working in her office for four hours a day when she is in Mumbai; listening to her constituents raise concerns at public meetings.

“I fail to see how they corroborate that,” she said of her opponents’ criticisms.

At the rally, Dutt could be seen rushing on and off stage, directing her followers as masses of people pushed to be near the speakers. Lines of white-clothed party volunteers tried to hold crowds in place, sometimes resulting in altercations as people wandered in from the street.

Under floodlights, it seemed that her supporters were as committed as ever — despite the event starting several hours late and more than one scuffle between members of the packed crowd.

Many of those present focused on what they said was the misleading focus on Narendra Modi’s leadership of Gujarat. Abdul Rahim Khan was among the party faithful, having previously worked as a leader in the Youth Congress. He was upbeat after the rally and ready to offer the party line.

“Congress has done a very good job here,” he said. “Most of the development in India comes from Maharashtra.”

He accused the BJP of misleading the public about the so-called Gujarat model of development. “They have paid money to PR campaigns,” he said. “The same progress was done in Maharashtra with a Congress government.

“Modi is similar to Hitler and Goebbels,” he added. “If you say a lie 100 times, and hope it will be true. They want to make a separate India with something special for the majority and nothing for the minority.”

Businessman Imran Khan was also enthusiastic, and shrugged off claims that the SP and AAP could split the Dutt vote.

“People know she is the strongest candidate in this area,” he said. “The election is going very well for us.”

Hitesh Singh, a young Congress supporter, said the focus on a BJP win was because BJP leader Narendra Modi “is hypnotising the people”. He was optimistic of a Congress win, though.

“Our work is going on properly,” he said, adding he was sure local people would see through opposition claims about his candidate.

As the event drew to a close, Chavan was quickly escorted away by his security entourage, shoving aside the assembled mass of well-wishers, reporters and party volunteers.

Dutt was surrounded by supporters. They all made their way into a small room in the headquarters, decked with maps of the area, to plan for the last stretch of the campaign.

As the chairs were collected and people started to drift off home, an older man, Satrikas, remained. “All the people were here today, this is a very important election,” he said.

Did he feel confident of a Congress victory? He shrugged.

“I don’t know who the next prime minister will be.”

Photo: Patrick Ward

This story was also published on Rediff.com, our media partner.

10Apr

Where 30% of AAP’s campaign money came from, how it was raised

It came mainly from the US. The second in line with contributions was the UAE. Then Hong Kong, UK, Singapore, Canada and Australia, in that order. The grand total of overseas contributions to the Aam Aadmi Party?

Last we checked, it stood at Rs 73,952,024 (£732,125), which accounts for 30% of its campaign kitty. Here’s an interactive breakup.

 

The remaining 70% of AAP donations came from India itself, where over Rs 172,400,687 (£1.7 million) was donated by some 76,073 individuals. (Note to reader: this data may change; check AAP’s donation list for the latest).

The average Indian donation is around Rs 2,266 — or £22.43.

As for the overseas contributions, this was largely through micro-donations from Non-Resident Indians. Around 10,860 international donors contributed an average of Rs 7,386 (around £73) each, to raise Rs 73,952,024 (£732,125).

Raj Redij-Gill, who heads the AAP support network’s global fundraising initiative from Staines-upon Thames in the UK, said social media and digital marketing technologies played a “critical” role in raising money. He said AAP activists had to think differently when the campaign started.

“There was no way we could do a traditional system of gathering money from donations on the ground because we didn’t have the volunteer force,” said Redij-Gill. “So we worked a lot on the global fundraising and this is an area where the NRI team came into play quite a bit.”

Redij-Gill, a digital marketing professional who came to Britain from Mumbai in 1996, quit work to lead the party’s fundraising effort. He said he had to move away from the traditional system of “having a few big sugar daddies who give you a few million and then you are beholden to them”.

“We had a couple of the core team members embedded directly in the technology team,” he said. “So quite a few people outside of India had the experience of working with social media and digital marketing.”

Using NRIs also allowed 24-hour support for the AAP project. “As we were working across time zones it helped quite a bit that we could spread out our volunteer force across the world,” he said.

AAP’s California-based global media coordinator Pran Kurup said the difference between the AAP’s approach to fundraising and that of other parties was “night and day”.

“It’s like comparing mobile phones and mainframes,” said Kurup, an entrepreneur originally from Madras. “One of the reasons we use different techniques is because of the support base we have. Younger people are doing this – many people who have been exposed to the Obama campaign, for instance.

“This idea of online donations has been done previously, even when the India Against Corruption movement was there, even before AAP was born. The process was already started so it was easy to continue.”

Kurup said that NRI supporters of AAP had experimented with different ways of raising funds from the diaspora. “We were able to come out with email campaigns where you write targeted emails like they did in the Obama campaign,” he said.

“We tried blanket emails where you don’t specifically ask for money, and where you ask for specific amounts and see what returns you get. Slowly you can build intelligence into the back end of the system whereby you can analyse the response rate, you know what works, what doesn’t work, and over time you continue to improve it.”

This story was also published on Rediff.com, our media partner.

21Mar

‘India can send a rocket to Mars, and it cannot provide an absentee ballot?’

Nagender

Nagender Chindam is, by his description, a “normal guy”. An average Non-Resident Indian living an unexceptional life in the town of Milton Keynes, 72 km northwest of London.

In January 2014, though, the Chindam did something exceptional: he went on a three-day hunger strike in central London, protesting the Indian government’s failure to introduce absentee voting for NRIs.

Absentee voting  is something the 32-year-old IT consultant has been fighting for in the last two years. In 2012, he had co-founded the NGO Pravasi Bharat to campaign for postal and online voting rights for Indian citizens living abroad. The hunger strike was a step-up from his earlier activism on this front. For Chindam, who says he cannot “go more than a few hours without rice”, it was quite a challenge.

Originally from Hyderabad, Chindam has worked in the UK as an IT consultant since 2009. He says his campaign is inspired by the peaceful protests of Mahatma Gandhi. At the time of this interview,  Chindam was in Hyderabad to press his legal challenge against the Indian government. He might be running out of time, but Chindam hopes he will be able to cast his vote for the Lok Sabha elections from UK when voting opens. Excerpts from an interview recorded on Skype:

You made headlines in January with your protest in Tavistock Square in London. Why does the issue of absentee voting matter so much to you?

In any democracy voting is important. The future of the country depends on whom we elect, their policies. In January we took a bigger step. That was our last option. We’ve been struggling for two years. We started with writing petitions, collecting some signatures, creating online petitions, and then we demonstrated in London in front of the [Indian] High Commission. Since we haven’t got any response, after a couple of months we marched in London from Tavistock Square to Indian High Commission building. We marched in huge numbers.

We were concerned about India even though we are living abroad. After the march we thought we’d receive a reply. Unfortunately we didn’t get any reply from officials  in India. Then we approached the Supreme Court of India in February 2013.  We have full faith in justice system, but things are a bit slow because of the number of cases the honourable court deals with here. It might take another one year or so [for the case to be heard].

Why we thought it was important at this juncture is that we have general elections. So we thought we have to raise our voice stronger. We’ve been following all peaceful methods available in a democracy, and we have been following in the footsteps of Mahatma. We are very small compared to Mahatma Gandhi but we have been trying to follow his methodology. So first we did demonstrations, then we did march, then we approached justice, and the final step was to go for a fast.

So it’s basically some kind of bigger step. Three days staying hungry for a person like me who cannot live without rice for a couple of hours. So it was a kind of daring decision. But fortunately three days with the support of our members and all our supporters around the world and their messages, I was able to fast for three days, I was on water. And that sent some kind of strong signals on how much concerned we were about our nation even though we live abroad.

Were you surprised at the level of support you got for your action?

I was really surprised because when we started we were just a couple of guys and it started growing, growing and growing. And in January when I fasted I received messages from around the world. People staying in Dubai, Middle East, people staying in America, Canada, they sent messages to Pravasi Bharat. And there are certain encouraging messages like one person who was staying in Netherlands. He’s an Indian. He is about 75 years old, and in 1970s itself he raised his voice. He discussed with the government and he sent proposals, but it hasn’t gone far. He started appreciating us. So those kinds of words encouraged us a lot. Honestly, I am totally surprised because I am just a normal guy like anyone, just doing day-to-day work, living on my salary.

Every democracy in the world, including developing nations like Pakistan, Indonesia, and the developed nationals like Canada, America, UK, Germany, all these democratic nations have provided an absentee ballot for citizens abroad. They accepted this fact, this is a globalised world, people are moving across the world because of profession or studies or further scientific advancements. Everything is not available under one country, so people are moving across. So these major countries including Pakistan have realised absentee ballot is something genuine.

Being the largest democratic nation, we talk about democracy in our day-to-day life and we the citizens of India are staying abroad for a reason and we would like to come back. It’s not that everyone who goes abroad will stay there forever. We are not talking about the people who are settling there or who are taking the British passport. We are only talking about the people who hold Indian citizenship.

India being such a scientifically advanced country it can send a rocket to Mars, and it cannot provide an absentee ballot or just a simple software? It’s possible, but somewhere something is lacking.

What are you doing in India at the moment?

I was here for our second hearing in Supreme Court, because in the first hearing the honourable court has issued notices, in second hearing court has asked explanation from the Election Commissioner. I thought on second hearing we would get some concrete explanation. If they don’t want to do, I thought we’d get the reasons why they can’t do. Or if they want to do, how and when they’ll implement. With that great hope I came here. The thing is the Election Commission has asked for four further weeks of time to file a proper response. So it’s been about four, five weeks. So we’ll be getting another hearing soon so we are hoping for the best.

Are you hopeful about the campaign?

I am a very positive person. There are elections soon. If we miss [this now], we have to wait five more years. I have hopes of Supreme Court. The district-wide elections [in Andhra Pradesh], there was a case pending in Supreme Court for long. The Supreme Court just last week asked the Election Commission to conduct these elections before the general elections. And Election Commission came back and said it would be very tough because they are preparing for the general election. It would be very tough, it involves lots of effort. But the court said no, no, no, we are capable, these are Supreme Court orders, you have to do it by this date. So within next two weeks they are conducting elections in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Do you see any opposition inside India to absentee voting – people who think that if you don’t live in India you should not have the right to vote?

I have experienced this when I’m talking about voting rights. Some people say “you guys already left the country”. Most of the people are under the impression that “you guys are not anymore bothered about the nation, that’s the reason why you guys left”.

But it’s not that we have left the country because we have chosen to live somewhere else. Yes, we respect the country where we are living, we learn from the country where we are living, we learn the lifestyle, we respect the culture. At the same time we have gone there for a purpose. For example myself, I have gone there for professional advancement. And there are people who go there for getting master’s degree. Some people who go just for scientific advancement.

There are big names like Laxmi Mittal, who still holds a passport and he is one of the richest guys in Europe. Amartya Sen, he is a Nobel laureate. He still holds an Indian passport. He came back here, he contribute a lot.  So I explained, but sometimes, yeah, I feel some kind of opposition as well.

Are you planning more events for your cause in London?

We have done most of the peaceful things we can do. Only thing we’ve left now is indefinite fast. That will not be our option at the moment. I am hoping positive hopes that government will implements this soon. So we’ve no need to do more fasts or more demonstrations. I hope the government has received our message. The only thing now is they need to act. I don’t think there is other pressurising required. Our case is in court. We will wait for a couple of hearings and we are hoping for the best outcome from the Supreme Court.

You can imagine it’s not a simple thing. [NRIs have] 10 million votes, 15,000 votes per MP constituency. There are certain constituencies who will win by about 5,000 or 6,000 votes. So if we win this case, these 15,000 votes will play crucial roles in at least 50 of MP constituencies, which can change the dynamics of the entire political system. So it’s a big project and it’s not a small thing if we achieve. I hope so. I’m praying to God we’ll get there.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. A version of this appeared on rediff.com

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