It is election time folks, but not for the armed forces

November 24th, 2008 - 12:57 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 24 (IANS) It is voting time again with assembly polls on in six states and general elections just round the corner, but for the tens of thousands of armed forces personnel in the country it is another occasion to let go their fundamental right to vote.A majority of Indian defence personnel have never voted during their service tenure and they are hoping a solution will be found this time.

India’s armed forces comprise a 1.1-million strong army, around 140,000-strong air force and nearly 60,000-strong navy.

Though there is a postal ballot and proxy voting system, most personnel are not aware about it or the procedure is full of hiccups.

Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali H. Major, confessed to IANS in a candid interview: “Though there is the proxy voting system and the postal ballot system, things have not materialised as desired.”

The IAF chief has himself not been able to vote for the last 10 years because, like most people in the armed forces, he has not been home during election time. “The last I voted was 10 years ago when I was home on vacation. I have voted only four times (in his 41 years of service),” Major told IANS.

The IAF chief’s statement underscores how successive governments have failed to give effective voting rights to the armed forces.

The postal ballot system has proved inadequate due to the long delays involved in sending out voting sheets.

“I have never voted during my 16 years of service. During the last general election (2004), I received my postal ballot well after the new government was formed,” an air force officer said on condition of anonymity.

The proxy voting system for armed forces personnel, approved in 2003, has also failed as most of them are unaware of the provision.

The defence ministry has time and again stressed that it is seized of the matter but has not taken any steps to rectify the problems.

In June, Minister of State for Defence M. Pallam Raju had said: “We have been getting a lot of complaints from soldiers unable to cast their votes. We will soon meet with the Election Commission in this regard.”

“The government has been promising to look into the issue time and again. But with assembly elections on in the states and other states gearing up for the general elections, it seems highly unlikely that we will be able to vote in next year’s Lok Sabha elections,” an Indian Army officer said over phone from his forward base in Jammu and Kashmir. He belongs to Uttar Pradesh.

The central government’s failure to streamline the voting system for the armed forces may result in a majority of the soldiers who will not be at home during election time being again unable to vote.

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