There is consternation among Indian journalists that Vijay Mallya, wanted in India for defaulting on huge loans, is a registered voter in the UK. But, all Indian citizens (apart from those in jail) can vote in the UK, so long as they are resident there for a period over six months and registered as a voter.

There are different rules in different democratic countries about who can and cannot vote in an election. In most countries like India and the US, voting is restricted to citizens. In some countries, for example New Zealand, both citizens and permanent residents can vote.

In Britain, citizens of 54 Commonwealth countries including India, can vote in all elections to the UK Parliament, the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, local body and Mayoral election and even elections to the European Parliament. The only stipulation is that they are ordinarily resident in the UK. For example, students on six- to nine-month courses can register to vote in elections that takes place during the period they are legally resident in the country.

A colonial hangover

The inclusion of non-citizens is a legacy of colonialism when subjects of the British Empire (within the limits of suffrage at the time) had the right to vote in Britain. But a Commonwealth citizen’s right to vote in Britain was confirmed by an act of Parliament as late as 1983, by which time the sun had set on the empire and the Commonwealth was composed of independent countries. Absurd though it may seem now, at the time the rational for this was most certainly a desire to keep the Commonwealth together as a block and Britain’s influence high.

Britain’s expansive electoral laws for Commonwealth citizens also permit them to stand for election in the UK if they are permanent residents (check how you can do that here) or do not need a visa to enter the country. They can also be nominated to the House of Lords if they qualify as a peer (complicated as India does not recognise British titles conferred on Indians) or as a Bishop of the Church of England.

So, for example, should Mallya choose to pursue politics in the UK to take his mind off his troubles in India, he has the right to stand of elections to Parliament in the UK so long as he does not have the same sort of financial problems in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.