After a long hiatus featuring fieldwork across India in the blistering heat, my first ever visit to New York (!) and the wedding of one of my dearest friends, I am finally back in the Oxbox and ready to get back to my expat life. Or whatever remains of it 😛
For the entire time that I was away, I was running from one thing to another, which left me with little time to think. And while going back to India was obviously fun, it was my trip to the US that really gave me some fodder, despite the busy schedule.
However, in the interests of relevance, I decided to write this month about something that I have actually been meaning to write about for a while. It’s a happy coincidence that it will come into sharp focus in about a week’s time. And if that and the title weren’t dead giveaways, let me spell it out for you – it’s the UK General Elections coming up on 8th June! Well that’s not exactly what this is about. It’s really more about voting and being involved in the political life of whichever place you live in as an expat.
Many of you may not know this, but citizens of Commonwealth countries, such as myself (seeing as I am Indian), get to vote in a whole plethora of things in the UK. In fact, it is mandatory to be registered to vote, otherwise you incur a hefty fine! And as it happens, with all the volatility in the UK in recent times, this resulted in giving me a vote in Brexit, in random Town Council elections and now in the General Elections as well. Having a vote means having to think. And having to think about who to vote for, really got me to think about what my vote meant for me, as a citizen of another country voting in the UK. Admittedly, this is a bit of a peculiar situation because not many countries offer voting rights to non-citizens. But as someone who has now voted more times in the UK than in my own country (thank you administrative hassles of the Indian electoral system), I have truly felt the responsibility of this vote on my shoulders.
At the same time, I have tried to ask myself multiple times why this matters to me. In the grand scheme of things, particularly as someone set to leave this country soon, do I really care about who becomes the next Prime Minister? And funnily enough, I found that I do.
Not because I particularly care about this country or because I will be personally affected by future policies but because the outcome of this election will have much larger repercussions – on my friends and family in the UK, on other students coming into the UK and even on India-UK relations. On the flip side, I did find that voting as an expat matters less to me than voting in India ever would, in the sense that I can’t get myself to feel as invested in political discussions as I usually do. Yes, the loss of the Brexit vote did feel like a very personal loss. In all the time that I have lived in Oxford, there has not been a single day of mourning like the day after the referendum and that too, in a town that has a majority of international students. And yet, for me, it paled in comparison to the feeling of despair that dawned upon me after the conclusion of the recent Uttar Pradesh elections in India.
It’s obviously natural to get involved in the political life of whichever place you’re living in but having the right to vote as an expat has been a very different and at times, confusing, experience. It has played somewhat of a role in integrating me better into this society and also forced me to learn about the political landscape in the UK very quickly, particularly given the number of elections we have had in the last 2 years or so. But at the same time, it has definitely felt out of place and odd at other times too.
I’m yet to decide how I feel about this, but in the meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a quote from a friend that did adequately capture my foremost feeling in this regard. Feeling frustrated with Theresa May’s snap decision for a general election and staring at the prospect of another few years in the UK, this is what she had to say – “I have now voted in the UK more times than I ever expected to. Give a foreigner time to gain some political momentum before demanding so much of one!”.
Make of that what you will 🙂