THE “APOLITICAL” SOLDIER
Why Soldiers are Marginalised in our Democracy
WHY ARE SOLDIERS AND THEIR FAMILIES DENIED THEIR DEMOCRATIC RIGHT TO VOTE IN ELECTIONS ?
A few days ago I was chatting with a young army wife.
She was quite bitter about how soldiers were being treated in our country, especially by politicians.
She had heard, on the media, some rather unbecoming statements about soldiers made by politicians in the recent past.
She wondered why politicians do not care about the plight of soldiers, except for some lip service jingoistic rhetoric in times of crises.
“Did you vote in the last election?” I asked her.
“No,” she said.
“Why not? Are you not interested in voting?” I asked her.
“Of course I am very much interested in voting. But what can I do? I was with my husband who was posted in a cantonment which is faraway from my hometown. So how could I go all the way just to vote?” she said.
“You could have voted by postal ballot,” I said.
She was clueless.
She also said that her husband, colleagues and their families did not vote.
Postal ballots just do not arrive in time, and in many cases they do not arrive at all.
Owing to the inefficient postal ballot system, it is likely that most defence personnel and their families are deprived of their democratic right to exercise their franchise and vote in elections.
I looked at the army wife and said, “So now you know why politicians do not care for soldiers. It is because armymen and their families do not vote.”
I feel that it is the duty of senior officers of the army navy and air force to ensure that all military personnel and their families get the opportunity to vote in an election.
Some senior officers say that the army is supposed to be apolitical.
But does being apolitical mean that you deprive military personnel from voting in elections?
Is it proper to deny soldiers and their families their democratic right to exercise their franchise by not giving them the opportunity to vote in elections?
Is voting not their democratic right as a citizen of India?
I feel that it is the duty of all defence officers to ensure that all personnel under their command (and their families) are properly registered as service voters and they get their postal ballots well in time which enables them to send their votes promptly to reach before counting day.
But it seems that senior officers are indifferent and do not care whether their soldiers and their families vote or not.
Also, various wives welfare organisations like AWWA, NWWA, AFWWA etc also do not seem to be interested in this matter, to ensure that families of soldiers get an opportunity to vote.
Everyone seems to be indifferent and disinterested in elections.
And the soldiers are paying the price for this indifference and disinterest.
If you do not vote, politicians will not bother about you.
Politicians care for those who vote for them, especially their “votebanks” comprising those voters who vote en-bloc based on caste, creed, religion or on linguistic lines.
That is why politicians woo various caste groups and minorities and try to appease them with sops, welfare measures and benefits in order to garner their votes.
Soldiers are not votebanks.
If you do not even vote, how can you become a votebank?
In fact, like I said earlier, most soldiers do not vote in elections as they are deprived of their right to vote due to an inefficient postal ballot system.
The improvisation of proxy voting has also failed miserably.
One does not understand why the archaic method of postal ballot is still being used despite it being so unsuccessful in implementation.
Though Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) have been introduced long back, there is no initiative to introduce Electronic Online Voting for soldiers.
It seems that the Election Commission and Senior Defence Officers do not seem to be keen on ensuring that each and every military officer and soldier gets an opportunity to exercise his franchise and is able to cast his vote in the elections.
Hence, for no fault of theirs, most military personnel are denied their democratic right to vote in an election.
I feel that both the Election Commission of India and Defence Services must take initiatives to ensure that all military personnel are given proper opportunity to vote in the next elections, in 2013 and 2014.
It is only when “soldiers” start voting in large numbers, will politicians start taking genuine interest in the welfare of servicemen, ex-servicemen and their issues.
Till then, politicians will keep ignoring soldiers for the simple reason that soldiers are not votebanks.
I had written an article on this subject sometime back, and posted it on my blog on 27 July 2013.
I am re-posting the article below with the hope that the powers-that-be read and reflect upon this issue.
WHY POLITICIANS IGNORE SOLDIERS
Musings on Improving the Military Electoral System
(The generic term “soldier” includes all uniformed security forces – soldiers, sailors, airmen, paramilitary and policemen)
Yesterday was Kargil Diwas.
It was ignored by most politicians.
There is a perception that politicians do not care for soldiers.
Yes, they want soldiers to protect them, to lay down their lives in the line of duty.
As exemplified in the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” soldiers are expected to scrupulously follow the dictum:
“Theirs is not to reason why, theirs is to do and die”
Why do politicians ignore soldiers?
Politicians ignore soldiers because they are not a votebank.
Forget about not being a votebank – most soldiers don’t even vote.
As citizens of India, soldiers have a democratic right to vote in elections.
However, in actual practice, most personnel of the security forces (soldiers sailors airmen paramilitary and police) are denied their democratic right to adult franchise as a citizen of this nation because they are unable to cast their votes.
Soldiers don’t vote because they are deprived of their right to vote owing to an inefficient postal-ballot system.
The postal ballot system remains inefficient because senior officers are disinterested.
Apparently, many Senior Officers believe that being “apolitical” means that you should not vote.
Even 66 years after independence, there still remain traces of feudal culture, or should I say “colonial mindset”, in some senior officers.
These “Relics of the Raj” do not encourage or facilitate voting in the uniformed services because they feel that voting in an election is not important – some probably think that voting is undesirable.
This apathy of the services towards the electoral process results in “soldiers” being excluded as a voter during elections.
This exclusion of “soldiers” from democratic elections has other ramifications too.
You may have noticed that whenever there is an issue involving “Law-Enforcers” versus “Law-Breakers” many politicians tend to take up cudgels on behalf of the law-breakers.
This may sound bizarre, but haven’t you seen this happening?
Why should politicians (law-makers) espouse wrongdoers (law-breakers) and deprecate their own security forces and police (law-enforcers)?
The answer is simple.
“Law Breakers” are “votebanks” (or they influence votebanks) who will help politicians win elections.
In the present day political scenario, you matter only if you are a votebank and soldiers are not a votebank – in fact, soldiers don’t even vote.
At the local level too, politicians do not bother about soldiers from their own constituency, since the politicians know that these soldiers, serving at distant places, are not going to vote in the election.
India is a democracy and a soldier has a right to vote.
In view of his “nomadic” life due to frequent transfers, a soldier and his family are registered as “service voters” and are entitled to vote by postal ballot at their native place or hometown.
However, owing to the inefficiency of the present system, only a very small percentage of soldiers and their families are able to exercise their franchise.
Someone told me that it is the same situation in the paramilitary and police too, who are deployed on “election bandobast” duties far away from their homes and mostly they too miss out on voting.
Thus, due to factors beyond his control, a soldier is unable to cast his vote and loses his basic democratic right to exercise his franchise.
It may be interesting to find out the following information:
1. What percentage of “soldiers” and their families are registered as service voters?
2. How many “soldiers” and their families have actually cast their votes in the previous elections?
I am sure that these details can easily be found out and the results will be an eye-opener for the election commission.
You may find that in many cases soldiers and their families are not even registered as service voters (the onus of ensuring this lies with the respective superior officers).
And even amongst the few who are registered, many are deprived of their right to vote due to lapses in the postal ballot system.
Let me give you my own example.
After I joined the Navy, the moment I became 21 (the voting age those days) I was given a form to fill up to register as a service voter.
The Navy is very good at getting forms filled up.
Of course, what happens afterwards is another matter!
A few years later, there was an election and I eagerly awaited my postal ballot.
My postal ballot did arrive – but it arrived too late.
The envelope containing my postal ballot was delivered to me a few days after the election was over and the results had been declared.
I observed that in my ship, very few postal ballots came. Most of the individuals did not get their postal-ballots at all, and of the few that came, most postal ballots had arrived too late.
Due to this, hardly anyone was able to cast his vote.
After I got married, my wife also registered as a postal ballot voter, but she too was unable to vote in the next elections, since once again the postal ballots did not arrive in time.
The same thing happened again and again.
Either the postal ballots arrived too late or they did not come at all.
If you told your senior officers, they just laughed it off saying that anyway the elections were over and your vote did not matter.
If you have served in uniform, in the army, navy, air force, paramilitary or police, do tell us of your experience.
Did you and your family register as a service voter?
How many times in your career has your postal ballot arrived well in time?
How many times in your long service career have you actually voted in an election?
I am sure the Election Commission of India wants everyone to vote in elections and they are keen that service voters are able to exercise their franchise like any other citizen of the country.
Various initiatives like “proxy voting” have been tried but they have not borne the desired results and have been unsuccessful.
Unfortunately, the archaic voting method of postal ballots continues.
Yes, even telegrams have been discontinued but postal ballots still continue.
Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) have replaced paper ballots in India.
Introduction of EVMs in elections happened many years ago.
But nothing has been done to change the old postal ballot system.
Why can’t we have an electronic online voting system for service voters?
In today’s world, I am sure that information technology can be harnessed to enable a soldier to electronically cast his vote online from wherever he is located via the internet.
It can be easily ensured that all “soldiers” and their families are given the opportunity to exercise their franchise and cast their votes in the elections.
The technology, the connectivity, the expertise – everything is available.
Then why is electronic online voting for “service voters” not being implemented?
Well, as I said, it is a question of antiquated colonial mindset.
In the uniformed services, it is very easy to get things done – you pass orders and fix responsibility.
If the defence services could carry out a mammoth rescue operation in Uttarakhand which such alacrity, precision and efficiency, I am sure they can ensure that every “soldier” is able to vote in the next elections.
If the defence forces can control law and order so promptly, maintain internal security so efficiently and tackle calamities so effectively, I am sure that they can put in place a system that enables all defence personnel and their families to cast their votes in elections.
The onus of ensuring that every eligible individual is registered as a service voter and is able to exercise his franchise, by casting his vote on time, lies with the respective uniformed service.
At the micro level, Commanding Officers can be made responsible and held accountable for this – to ensure that all “soldiers” under their command register as voters and cast their votes in time.
“Returning Officers” can be appointed in every unit to supervise the electronic voting by soldiers and ensure smooth conduct of elections.
At the macro level, each service must liaise with the election commission to ensure 100% registration of eligible service voters and facilitate electronic voting by providing the necessary technological and human resources during elections.
In the same manner as they set up “pay commission cells”, each service must set up “election commission cells” tasked with ensuring 100% voting by “soldiers”.
Like they have in every state during elections, each uniformed service can appoint a Chief Electoral Officer responsible for the conduct of election in his service and reporting to the Election Commission for all election related matters.
Despite efforts of the election commission, due to archaic mindset of senior officers and consequent indifferent approach, it seems that most “soldiers” are not able to exercise their franchise and are being deprived of their basic democratic right of casting their vote in an election.
Service Voters must be able to vote in elections.
This is not an insurmountable task – the process, the technology, the resources, everything is readily available and the uniformed services are geared up to take on any task.
It is just a question of attitude and will.
Let’s hope things change positively and every “soldier” is able to vote in the ensuing 2014 Lok Sabha Elections.
In modern elections, with multiplicity of political parties and large numbers of candidates contesting in each constituency, victory margins are decreasing, and every vote is becoming important.
Maybe, when “soldiers” start voting in large numbers, will politicians start taking genuine interest in the welfare of servicemen, ex-servicemen and their issues.
Copyright © Vikram Karve
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
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About Vikram Karve
A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse – his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
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