Ex-servicemen seek voting rights for soldiers at posts

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    Ex-servicemen seek voting rights for soldiers at posts

    Bhanu Pratap Singh, TNN | Sep 19, 2013, 04.05 AM ISTA

    JAIPUR: The 2014 general elections promise to be interesting in many ways, besides the BJP turning it into a Rahul Gandhi versus Narendra Modi battle. For the first time a demand is being made to let the armed forces personnel exercise the right to vote at the places of their posting.

    Since the first general elections in 1952, the on-duty soldiers have been casting votes in their far away native constituencies through postal ballot papers, which is a cumbersome process. In the assembly or other smaller elections, a soldier has to take the initiative and request for the ballot papers through his commanding officer—an even more tedious process and, thus, generally avoided.

    'Justice for Jawans', a Pune-based NGO run by veteran army men, that has raised the new demand reasons against providing postal ballot papers saying that the practice is "ineffective" and nearly deprives the soldiers of participating in the electoral process, as much depends on whether the ballots are dispatched timely, both by the election commission as well as the respective military commanders.

    The NGO's representatives met the Jaipur-based South Western Command's army commander, Lt Gen Gyan Bhushan and Rajasthan's chief election officer (CEO) Ashok Jain on Tuesday to demand that the soldiers be allowed to go and cast their votes directly at the polling booths, which can be set up in the cantonment areas.

    "We are seeking a legal opinion on the demand. The Election Commission of India will take the final call on the issue," said Jain, CEO of Rajasthan, where the assembly elections are due this year. Election officials believe allowing voting rights at places of posting could be legally viable in the general elections, but not in the state or other regional elections.

    The 'Justice for Jawans' has communicated the idea to the chief of the Army staff's office and claims to have received a favourable reply on the subject. "We are now meeting the army commanders for necessary directions to get the serving personnel registered as general voters using form-6 at places of their respective postings," the NGO's president, Lt Col Suresh Patil (retired) told TOI.

    The NGO does not hide its intentions to tap the "vote-bank" in the uniformed forces (including BSF and CRPF) that have a joint strength of almost 20 lakh. The armed forces are said to have 68 military stations/cantonment areas across the country. "This means soldiers can influence as many Lok Sabha seats across India, if allowed to vote differently," said Patil, 1971 Indo-Pak war veteran.

    The NGO believes Gen Singh and Col Rathore should not identify themselves with any political party.

    Bhanu Pratap Singh<http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/toireporter/author-Bhanu-Pratap-Singh.cms>
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