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Democracy, bureaucracy and armed forces
April 23, 2004
The Indian election to the 14th Lok Sabha will be the first general election of this century. This is also the first election where the bureaucracy and armed forces will get a real opportunity to exercise their franchise. All these years, they had voting rights but not more than 10 percent could cast their vote at the polling booth.
Not any more.
TheáConstitution does deny any voter her/his voting rights. Even the bureaucracy and the armed forces -- the two important organs of any nation-state -- enjoy the right to pick their representatives.
However, the situation till some months ago was such that they could not enjoy this right physically. But now with the amendment in the People's Representative Act, 1971, personnel of the armed forces can use the proxy voting system to cast their vote. This amendment was passed in August 2003 after a long drawn debate.
A political opinion is nothing but a preference in favour of a party for its policy or programme. If one likes it one votes for that party. If not, one looks for an alternative. But this is acceptable in case of a citizen who is NOT a part of the government machinery and who is not involved in the planning and implementation of any policy or programme.
Supposing one civil servant has voted for a party that has managed to come to power, it is quite likely and natural for her/him to feel more committed to the programmes of his party. In this case, s/he would be performing with more zeal and enthusiasm. In case his party is defeated in the next general election, s/he may not show the same level of enthusiasm and zeal for the programmes of the rival party.
Not only this if he is ultra-committed, he may even work against such programmes from within and ensure that they fail. This is one of the important reason why civil services should not have voting rights, goes one view.
On the other hand, there are powerful reasons to allow them to vote. In the case of a poor country like India, by not allowing a trained, educated, experienced civil servant voting rights, one is depriving the country the advantage of an informed political opinion. These are the two extremes on this issue. And our Constitution makers in their wisdom decided to give voting rights to the civil and armed services.
If one talks to a soldier who has put in 30 to 40 years in the army, he would tell you that he rarely/or never got to exercise his vote. And the fault lies with the very concept of the postal ballot. The electoral office of the constituency, to which a defence service person is registered, was expected to mail the ballot papers to such personnel wherever they were stationed. The service voter had to fill the ballot paper and then post it back.
The problem lay in the implementation of the system. In almost every instance, those who received the ballot papers were remarkably few. And it can be assumed that of those few, the number ofáballot papers that eventually reachedáthe ballot box by the set date would be still fewer.
The Election Law Amendment 2003 was finally passed in August 2003.áThis landmark event went unnoticed and unreported.
Avinash Kolhe is a lecturer of Political Science at D G Ruparel College, Mumbai