KOCHI: Squads of UDF and LDF involved in door-to-door campaigning in Kadathuruthy constituency in Kottayam were keen to do one thing before electioneering ended on Sunday: To ensure votes of expatriates and their families.Unlike previous elections, fewer expatriates are coming to Kerala to vote this time owing to Covid-19 curbs. Still, party workers contacted such non-resident Keralites (NRKs) through WhatsApp to urge them that they asked their family members here to vote.
“Pravasi Congress, a forum of expatriates in Kerala Congress, is coordinating the campaign among NRI voters. Kadathuruthy, Ettumanoor, Changanassery, and Kottayam constituencies have a sizeable population of expatriates. When we call them, they tell us that they asked their family members to vote for our candidate. Kaduthuruthy is witnessing a tough contest as both KC(M) and P J Joseph-led Kerala Congress are locking horns here,” said a functionary of Pravasi Congress not wishing to be named.
Kerala has had a long tradition of outfits that back various fronts chartering flights for NRKs to arrive home and vote. While there are no chartered flights this time, NRI outfits, such as Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) that backs Muslim League, have arranged scheduled flights for such voters.Though NRK votes may be a game-changer in Central Travancore and southern districts where many constituencies are witnessing a neck-and-neck race, they may not impact the results in northern districts, despite the high number of expatriates there.
“We did not arrange chartered flights due to Covid. However, we have scheduled flights for NRKs who want to vote. The KMCC UAE chapter has arranged SpiceJet flights through group booking and already brought about 1,000 voters this time. We charged 250 UAE Dirhams from NRKs and bore the additional expenses,” said P K Anwar Naha, general secretary of KMCC UAE.“Many families came here amid the pandemic. So, there aren’t any chances of a dip in voting by expatriates,” Naha said.Hyder Thalikulam, vice-president of Kerala Pradesh Pravasi Congress, Thrissur, differed.
“The apathy shown by the Centre and state government denied NRKs the opportunity to exercise their fundamental right. Many expatriates cancelled their journey from Saudi Arabia due to the uncertainty regarding the flights. Most expatriates in Gulf countries are UDF supporters and hail from Malappuram, Kozhikode, and other northern districts. Here, the victory margin is always between 10,000 and 20,000. So, we cannot say NRI votes would be crucial,” he said.As per a report by the Centre for Development Studies, the state has 22.71 lakh expatriates.
However, only a few of them figure in electoral rolls. Though various reports said nearly 5.5 lakh people from West Asia returned to Kerala after losing jobs due to the pandemic, only around 90,000 have their names in the voters’ list, according to State Election Commission.