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Supreme Court permits serving soldiers to vote: Can they change the equation?
Supreme Court had enabled defence personnel to vote from their duty stations recently. This decision has far reaching ramifications at macro and micro level both for the defence forces and the nation at large. It may have negative ramifications too.

The defence forces have been apolitical since raising of the Indian Defence Forces in the present context. Religion, money making, politics wee some of the issues which were strictly forbidden for discussion amongst the uniformed fraternity. This was basically because this was the most powerful tool of the colonial masters to ensure fear of the Queen amongst the masses. Other taboos are in the process of dismantling albeit slowly but surely the fraternity is gradually in tune with the national aspiration. In fact credit must be given to the Defence Forces for changing the image from tool of government for use amongst the masses to perhaps the most confidence aspiring organisation of the Nation.

Till date there was a system of postal ballot, where one caste his vote and sent it to his place of posting and there was little collective discussion. With the new proviso, a soldier can vote at his place of posting if he has been there since Jan this year for Apr 14 parliamentary elections

The military leadership faces a huge challenge of transformation with the new diktat.

With military stations and cantonments having large eligible populace of voters, political parties would and should be interested in getting these people on board. The challenge for political leadership would be how do they get the soldier on board because the local station/place issues may be of hardly any consequence to the soldier. Soldier is cocooned from the local turbulence because of his cant life, what would be his concern, logic, motivation to choose a candidate.

Should he follow the US Presidential system where one votes for the policies as spelled out by the President and explained through media and other sources or work out a different methodology. Out there massive rallies akin to India where millions attend are irrelevant and do not take place.

Voting by locals follows diktats of religious heads/local Mafia or the perception based on the past experience. Cyber means have very little influence amongst huge chunks of populace who do not access/understand larger national issues- for them roti, kapda, makan and security are the predominant rationale for choosing candidates. With uniformed community which is reasonably well informed/cares for larger issues, will this pose a dilemma? Probably yes.

Should the defence forces permit rallies for its soldiers by various parties to enable making informed choices? This would be precedent setting but perhaps a workable option. Political parties are likely to include cantt improvements and may force them to stay away from issues of caste, religion and force development agenda. Should this happen, then this would be great for the nation and defence forces would had major positive ramifications on the approach to elections by the political parties. In fact in due course it may narrow the gap between the desirability and do ability and put the democracy on a stronger footing. Mafia/criminals/tainted candidates may have to give way to better candidates.

Will this exposure hammer the foundation of the force? The initial feel would be yes but detailed analysis and past experience may indicate positive response with caution. JP's movement of mid 70's; insurgencies in Punjab, Bengal, Tamil Nadu and ongoing LWE in Central India has had repercussions, some went beyond control but most were successfully. managed by the fraternity. Will this Mandalise? There were certain major challenges in some regiments during Mandal agitation because of cascading ramifications impacting the caste/groups back home (forces were not impacted) and this needed management by leadership. The new opportunity too will need to be debated and manges lest it has adverse ramifications.

The defence fraternity will need to decide as to how to mange the new challenge better for forcing the political parties to address the genuine sulks of the soldier and the forces at macro and micro level. However since men in uniform can not issue a whip for voting to a party/candidate, it may be desirable for a middle path. Using the ex-sevicemen as the interface between the serving/retired soldiers and political parties to MOU/ agenda regarding forces wish list. Till now the babudom of the country have created a wall of distrust between the political decision makers and Services Chiefs. The tool that has been frequently been used is by invoking the boggy of coup de tat amongst the politicians- Gen VK and Anthony tiff was given a similar colour. Committees on pay commission anomalies and restructuring of Defence Ministry have been stonewalled by the babus. Large number of petitions by MOD against ex-servicemen are filed by MOD to deny/delay the emoluments. Some of these and many more issues are harming the defence forces which can hopefully be addressed now.

The right given by the Supreme Court has great potential to make a difference at all levels provided the forces can strategize their plan well and intelligently though it is not their forte.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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