By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 17 (IANS) They think nothing of hopping across the border to India to attend a wedding, obtain medical treatment or attend business conferences.
But tens of thousands of Indians living in Nepal can’t be bothered to make the journey home to cast their votes.
This year, as India embarked on a nearly month-long parliamentary polls from Thursday, there was a strong campaign in that country to get the inert voter to the polling booth.
However, the campaign has not trickled down to India’s northern neighbour Nepal; nor has a succession of Indian governments taken any steps to ensure Indians living in Nepal are able to cast their votes in the Himalayan republic itself.
Shiva Raj Singh Raghav, immediate past president of the Indian Citizens’ Association (ICA) in Nepal, estimates that there are about 300,000-400,000 Indians and people of Indian origin living in Nepal as long-term residents.
The 50-year-old, a hardware wholesaler from Uttar Pradesh, has himself been residing in Nepal for the last 25 years.
“The ICA had petitioned the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, asking for the government to enable the Indians registered with the embassy to cast their votes in Nepal,” Raghav told IANS. “But the embassy expressed its inability to do so.”
In addition to the long-term Indian residents, Raghav estimates there are several thousands of Indians who come and go across the open border.
Indians living in Nepal include businessmen, professionals working for Indian organisations or joint ventures like banks, telecom and hydropower companies, embassy staffers, army personnel and teachers.
Prem Lashkari, founding president of the Nepal-India Friendship Society, says one reason for the inertia is that businessmen, whether they live in Nepal or India, prefer to stay away from politics.
His friend West Bengal lad Praksh Dugar, who owns a construction business in Nepal, is a prime example.
“The last time I voted in my home constituency Murshidabad was eight years ago,” says Dugar, who is now planning to return to his village Nabogram and take the plunge in politics. “I vote if I am home during the elections. But I have never gone home just to vote.”
Lashkari, a jeweller who has been living in Nepal since 1971, thinks the young generation could be different.
“Now more and more young people are becoming active,” he says. “They realise that businessmen too should have representatives in the government. We failed to press for postal votes or even a voting booth in Nepal. Maybe they would take up the issue one day.”
The Indian community in Nepal boasts of big names like Vikram Singh Deo, the former ruler of a principality in Rajasthan whose daughter Himani, wedded to Nepal’s former flamboyant crown prince Paras, was the crown princess of Nepal; Shalini and Rakesh Wadhwa, who head Nepal’s billion-rupee chain of casinos; and R. Saraf, who owns two of Kathmandu’s most elegant hotels, the Yak and Yeti and Hyatt.
Last year, the US government made arrangements so that Americans in Nepal could take part in their presidential elections.