Armed forces chiefs get ready to vote

April 24th, 2009 - 1:24 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, April 24 (IANS) India’s armed forces chiefs have got themselves registered with the Election Commission and are raring to vote in these general elections.
“I will be voting in the elections. I will use the proxy voting system,” Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF), told IANS.

In an interview to IANS last year, Major had said he had been unable to vote regularly because, like most of his colleagues, he had been away from the constituency where he was registered as a voter.

“The last I voted was 10 years ago when I was home on vacation. I have voted only four times (in 41 years of service)… Although there are proxy voting and postal ballots, things have not materialised as desired,” he had said.

Military personnel can vote in their area of posting only during general elections and provided they are registered with the Election Commission in that area. This, however, rarely happens.

The postal ballot system is in place. However, it suffers from long delays, so much so that at times the postal ballots reach the units after a new government has already taken office.

Most soldiers also appear to be unaware of the proxy voting system that allows a family member to vote on their behalf.

Admiral Sureesh Mehta, Indian Navy chief and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, had proudly showed his inked finger at a conference after the Delhi assembly elections. He is now all set to vote for the Lok Sabha polls from Delhi Cantonment since that is the station where he is posted.

“The navy chief has been voting in every election. This time also he will vote at Delhi Cantonment,” a senior navy official said.

When asked about his voting plans, Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor told IANS: “Yes, I have got myself registered and will vote.”

In January, the armed forces, for the first time, asked all their personnel to get themselves registered with the poll panel in their area of posting to exercise their right to vote.

Due to the proactive steps by the military establishment, more than one million forms have been submitted to the Election Commission.

The Indian Army has 1.1 million men and women, the air force has 140,000 and the navy has about 55,000 personnel.

Voting is a democratic privilege that many armed forces personnel have been forced to skip in the past because of flaws in the electoral exercise involving soldiers but this now seems set to change.

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