National

Ballot eludes men in uniform

Satyanarayan Iyer Mumbai | Updated on April 29, 2014 Published on April 29, 2014

BL30_POL_SURESH_PATIL

Supreme Court order allowing army men to vote not implemented





Former Army chief VK Singh, ex-deputy chief of Army staff Raj Kadyan and former Mumbai top cop Satyapal Singh — the electoral battle this time is seeing a good number of men who once donned the uniform enter the political arena.

And yet, a large crop of men still serving in the armed forces have not been able to exercise their right to vote, this time as well.

The Supreme Court in its order late last month allowed armed forces personnel posted in peaceful locations to register themselves as general voters in their place of posting. Despite this, many soldiers could not exercise their franchise as the Election Commission (EC) did not register them.

Justice for Jawans, a Pune-based non-government organisation, has written to the EC to get the details of armed forces personnel posted at peaceful locations so that they can still vote.

In a letter last week, Suresh Patil, President of Justice for Jawans, urged the EC to act on the SC directive and allow Air Force personnel posted in Pune to vote. “We have received no response from the EC yet,” he said. Patil himself fought the electoral battle in Pune, on a Bahujan Mukti Party ticket.

The EC’s process of enlisting voters in the country ended on March 15, nine days before the SC order came.

But Patil says that should not have come in the way of EC enlisting armed forces personnel. The SC had asked the EC to take immediate steps to list armed forces personnel as general voters in constituencies where the election process (like filing of nomination etc) had not commenced.

This was, however, not done, said Patil, who plans to follow up with the EC. Not following an SC order is tantamountto contempt of court, he points out.

The armed forces strength (across the Army, Navy and Air Force) is estimated at 13 lakh, of which about one-fourth are posted in difficult (non-peace) locations. Additionally, there are about nine lakh paramilitary forces.

Patil says it is easy to get details on the armed forces personnel, since it would be available at the office of the Commanding Officer at every unit. EC officials could not be reached for a comment. Precise numbers on defence personnel who did, if at all, manage to vote this election will be clear only after the election process is completed mid-May.

Postal ballots

The SC order says that 13,28,600 personnel had already registered for the postal ballots.

But postal ballots have not found favour with the armed forces personnel either.

Patil pointed out that casting a vote through a postal ballot is tedious. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, only 8,000 armed forces personnel voted, and even that did not reach in time, he said.

Defence analyst C Uday Bhaskar said: “This needs redress. Otherwise India would in effect have two types of citizens. Those who can and some who cannot…yet the latter are expected to die for the flag.”

Published on April 29, 2014
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