By Prashant Agrawal
“No taxation without representation” has been a rallying cry for democracies everywhere.
The American Revolution started on imposition of a tea tax. Indians begrudged the British Lagaan and taxes. It’s only fair that if a government taxes its people, then the people deserve the right to vote, to have a say in their government.
It would seem the reverse also holds true: To have a vote, one should pay one’s taxes, at least above a certain threshold. In India, any citizen residing here can vote. And now, according to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010, overseas citizens of India can vote, too.
But they still don’t pay Indian taxes. They should though, if they want the right to vote.
Most Indians don’t pay taxes because they earn less than a minimum threshold. It makes no sense to tax citizens that barely make ends meet. On the other hand, citizens earning a decent living should and must contribute to government coffers.
It costs to defend India, build Indian infrastructure, educate Indian children and provide a minimal safety net for the millions of Indians who live below the poverty line. Few “enjoy” paying taxes. Most of us feel that tax revenue could be spent more efficiently. But nevertheless we pay.
Indian citizens living overseas generally fall into two groups: a skilled group that has gone abroad for better opportunities; and migrant laborers who have moved out of necessity.
Members of the second group live chiefly in the Middle East and work long hours in difficult conditions. They make less than $20,000 a year and send the bulk of their earnings home to their family in India. Don’t tax them. It wouldn’t be fair.
On the other hand, there are the Indians living in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and other places. Most earn a comfortable living. If they want the benefits of Indian citizenship, specifically the right to vote, then they should also have the responsibilities of Indian citizenship, specifically paying taxes.
Granted, they have to pay taxes in the country they live in but then those should be offset against Indian taxes. Americans pay taxes in the country where they reside but those taxes can often be offset against U.S. taxes. The Indian government could do the same for overseas citizens wishing to exercise their right to vote.
It makes sense in another way. If overseas Indians are going to get a say in the policies of India through voting for MPs, then they should realize the costs of those policies. It might be nice to sit in New York or Sydney and say “I will vote for an MP who will provide state-of-the-art healthcare for all, build six lane highways, create the world’s best schools etc…” That sounds great until you realize that the government has to pay for it.
Given the choice of paying Indian taxes and voting or not paying Indian taxes and not voting, I suspect that many (if not most) Indian citizens would opt out of the system. I wonder how many Indian citizens living in India would do the same?
–Prashant Agrawal is a frequent contributor to India.WSJ.com and India Real Time. Follow him on Twitter @agrawalprashant.
Fuente: India Real Time