Enroll defence personnel at place of posting
In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India has held that defence personnel can vote at the place of their posting, if they have been deployed at that place since January 1, 2014; and directed the Election Commission (EC) to enroll all those who qualify the above criterion. This applies to their families as well.chandigarh Updated: Apr 03, 2014 08:43 IST
In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India has held that defence personnel can vote at the place of their posting, if they have been deployed at that place since January 1, 2014; and directed the Election Commission (EC) to enroll all those who qualify the above criterion. This applies to their families as well.
This brings us to the moot point as to why the political class and the successive election commissioners have violated the Representation of the People Act 1950-51 (Act hereafter) so blatantly and for so long.
When cornered finally, the Election Commission made a last-ditch effort and ruled that for the defence personnel to qualify to vote at the place of posting, they should have been in that location for a minimum of three years.
How disconnected is the Election Commission with the situation in the Indian Army, where no one can possibly stay at the same station for that long.
Even when the case came up before the Supreme Court, the EC continued to plead that "as per rules", a soldier should have been staying in that location for a minimum of three years.
There is no such rule or stipulation in the Act; and this three-year clause is the EC's own untenable ploy to, somehow or the other, deny the soldier his most fundamental right.
Postal ballots tedious process
The Act does have a provision for the EC to extend postal ballot facility in certain very special cases but this provision cannot be applied to soldiers, as they are covered under a specific provision of the Act.
Postal ballot is applicable to Indians residing or posted abroad, besides those under prevention detention. Earlier, the EC had tried to introduce proxy voting for soldiers.
Introducing proxy voting for 15-lakh voters will result in reducing adult franchise to the voting system of a limited company. Moreover, the proxy for national elections requires authentication by a magistrate or an oath commissioner and the EC does not seem to have visualized difficulties the defence personnel will face in complying with such a tedious process.
In short, the ECs, past and present, have tried every possible trick to ensure that the soldier is denied this basic right. Civil employees, by and large, vote at the place of their posting.
The practice of postal ballot by soldiers has been a complete failure. The procedure requires the electoral registration officer (ERO) to dispatch the electoral roll of a soldier to his record office, which in turn sends it to the soldier's unit and from there it has to be despatched back to the ERO.
This circuit is difficult to complete in the available time, so a vast majority of ballot papers never reaches in time.
Contradiction in EC stands
The Supreme Court pointed out that on the one hand, the EC would want maximum number to cast their vote, and on the other hand, it has been making this deliberate and sustained attempt to ensure that a vast majority (of soldiers) is deprived of this fundamental right.
The Supreme Court was constrained to criticise the EC for robbing the defence personnel of their valuable right.
The three-year clause has no logic and only shows the EC determination to deny, by hook or by crook, soldier's right to vote.
Even in disturbed areas where troops are deployed for decades, they have a stake in peace and development of the area and have the right to vote for who in their view is the right candidate.
Postal ballot, where put into operation already, needs to be ignored and the registering of serving personnel at the place of posting for the coming general elections undertaken on priority and as a special case.
Prejudice of political class
This denial of voting right to a soldier, as defined in the Act, is not just the doing of the successive ECs alone, but the result of prejudice of the political class and to it has been added the "willing" babu's bias.
After all, only those bureaucrats who play ball with the politicians in power get re-employment: some, again and again. There is a point of view gaining credence that for unbiased and fair inputs and decisions from the bureaucrats, their re-employment and extension of service should be stopped.
Once this "carrot" is taken away, we'll see more bureaucrats go by their honest and independent views, in the best national interest and not toe the politician's line. This one step will bring about good governance and cut out the unholy politico-bureaucratic nexus.
(The writer, former deputy chief of the army staff, is a commentator on defence and security issues. Views expressed are personal.)