(TibetanReview.net, Apr01, 2014) India’s ministry of home affairs has decided to challenge a Feb 7 notice by the Election Commission, ordering that Tibetan exiles and their children born in the country from Jan 26, 1950 to Jun 30, 1987 be allowed to register as voters for the upcoming general election, reported asianage.com Mar 27. The Election Commission’s decision was based on a Karnataka High Court Ruling in Aug 2013, upholding a Tibetan petitioner’s right to a passport in view of the fact that he was a citizen of India by birth as provided for under the country’s Citizenship Act, 1955. The Delhi High Court had given a similar ruling in another Tibetan petitioner’s case in Dec 2011.
India amended the Citizenship Act later on to delete the provision according citizenship by birth with effect from Jul 1987.
The report said the home ministry decided to challenge the High Court and the Election Commission orders after the county’s security agencies red-flagged the issue, citing “very important international strategic and security considerations”. However, it was not clear on what legal argument the home ministry will challenge the judicial and election commission orders.
The report claimed that there were about .25 million Tibetan refugees currently living across the country and that they could influence the outcome of Lok Sabha polls in four to six parliamentary constituencies. This is, however, a glaring factual error. The total number of Tibetans living outside Tibet is only about 130,000, with up to 22,000 estimated to be living in Nepal, around 90,000 in India, possibly around 14,000 in North America, and the bulk of the rest in Europe and Australia. Besides, a significant portion of Tibetans living in India are people who came after Jun 1987 and their children, and are therefore not citizens by birth eligible to vote.
In fact, many eligible Tibetans are reluctant or unwilling to be counted as citizens even after the Election Commission order due to their strong sentimental attachment to their cause and their Chinese occupied homeland. A fair number of Tibetans initially rushed to enroll themselves after the Feb 7 order due to the prospect of getting a voter’s identify card, a prized possession for anyone living in the country, and becoming entitle to certain basic civic amenities. However, even Indian newspaper reports mentioned that upon learning that enrolling meant accepting Indian citizenship and surrendering their Foreigners’ Registration card, many stopped in their track while some who had already registered wanted to withdraw.
One newspaper report cited a Chief Election Officer as saying Tibetans were reluctant to give up their refugee status because they were accorded refugee status by the UN and were entitled to funds from several countries on account of it. However, that UN has never recognized Tibetans as refugees right from the time of their mass flight in 1959 due to strong pressure exerted by China.
The Asianage.com report also said security agencies had pointed to the ministry of home affairs that implementing the order could have a serious impact on diplomatic ties with China. This is however speculative, not borne out by any factual consideration. Besides, the Chinese government is so far not known to have reacted to both the Dec 2011 and the Aug 2013 High Court rulings and one very much doubts on what ground an objection could be raised.