Removing injustice

The Supreme Court’s direction to the Election Commission to allow defence personnel in peace stations to register themselves as voters in constituencies of their posting and exercise their votes, and its acceptance by the Commission have helped remove a longstanding anomaly and electoral injustice.

Millions of defence personnel and their family members have been deprived of their right to vote in the past because of the existing restrictive conditions about exercising it. The special circumstances of military services were cited as the reason for these restrictions but it has not been convincing. The defence forces’ leadership has been seen to be lukewarm to the idea of facilitation of voting by personnel. Though the principle of the right of defence personnel to vote at their place of posting was accepted as early as 1971, a special order issued the following year allowed them to vote only by postal ballot or by proxy. There has even been criticism that this was because the military leadership wanted to keep the personnel as uninvolved in politics as possible.

Surprisingly, the Election Commission, which has always been keen on exercise of unhindered and maximum exercise of franchise by citizens, had not been very helpful. It needed a prodding by the court which felt EC was too rigid and technical on the matter for it to accept the idea of personnel voting in the constituencies of their own posting. The facility for postal ballots has been difficult and unattractive. A large number of service personnel do not avail of it because there are conditions attached to it also. It denied the personnel the sense of direct involvement in the electoral exercise and made voting a distant action. There have also been complaints that postal ballots sometimes arrived late. The other option, proxy voting, is bad in principle too because it compromises the idea of secret ballot.

With the condition of a three-year tenure at a station having been waived now, service personnel who are posted in a station even in January this year and their family members can vote in the coming elections. They are like other transferable government employees in the matter of voting and can register themselves as general voters. The restriction that politicians should not go canvassing in cantonments is not unreasonable either. As the court noted, the right to vote is a very important constitutional right and it should not be denied to anyone.

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