Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Wings of democracy: How North Kerala’s expatriate voters are flying home to vote

In a remarkable demonstration of democratic engagement, thousands of non-resident Keralites from the Gulf region are gearing up to participate in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections through an innovative initiative dubbed “Vottu Vimanam” or Vote Flight. Despite the logistical challenges posed by recent severe floods in the UAE and other Gulf countries, which led to flight cancellations and rescheduling, dedicated charter flights are set to bring these expatriate voters directly to Kerala.

Organizations representing Keralites abroad, such as the Global Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) and the Overseas Indian Cultural Congress (OICC), have teamed up with travel agencies to ensure these voters can exercise their electoral rights. The initiative has resonated strongly across the expatriate community, with charter flights being arranged at an average cost of Rs 8,500 per ticket—a price made affordable through the concerted efforts of various expatriate organizations.

The first of these flights, heralded as the inaugural “vote” flight, successfully transported 190 voters from Jeddah to Kerala on April 7. Another flight, managed by Dubai’s KMCC from the district of Kozhikode, brought 122 voters from Ras Al Khaimah to Karipur on April 21, overcoming operational challenges in Dubai due to the floods. Most passengers on this flight hailed from the Vadakara constituency, spotlighting the targeted efforts to mobilize voters from specific regions.

Kozhikode district alone boasts 35,793 registered expatriate voters, with substantial numbers also from nearby districts, all poised to play a crucial role in this electoral process. The sheer scale of this endeavor is further underscored by KMCC’s ambitious goal to fly home 10,000 voters each from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Amidst this logistical feat, political campaigns have intensified, with candidates recognizing the significant impact of the NRI vote. A Congress candidate from Vadakara, Shafi Paramabil, notably traveled to Sharjah to engage directly with the expatriate voters, reflecting the high stakes involved in constituencies like Vadakara and Kannur, where political battles are intensely fought over.

Moreover, Air India Express has launched the #VoteAsYouAre campaign, offering a 19% discount to first-time voters aged between 18 and 22, traveling to cast their ballots. This initiative not only facilitates the participation of young voters but also highlights the broader commitment to encouraging electoral participation across the board.

As Kerala prepares for the elections, the dedication of its diaspora to participate in the democratic process, despite geographical and logistical barriers, is a powerful testament to the vibrant political engagement of Keralites. Through “Vottu Vimanam,” these non-resident Indians are not just traveling miles to vote but are also reinforcing the foundational values of democracy in their homeland.

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