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Historical Injustice By EC, Finally Corrected!

Published on Thu, Mar 27,2014 | 09:34, Updated at Thu, Mar 27 at 09:43Source : 

By: Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

March 24, 2014 will go down in history as a red letter day when the country's apex court - the Supreme Court (SC) - opened the doors for lakhs of armed forces personnel to exercise their democratic right to vote. 
Even after six decades of Independence, our 14 lakh armed forces personnel and 9 lakh paramilitary forces personnel were denied their basic democratic right to vote because of an obstructive ruling by the Election Commission (EC) – namely, the requirement of a three-year tenure posting for armed forces personnel, and that too, with their families, to be eligible to vote at the place of posting as an ordinary voter. An unconscionable fetter on the constitutional right to vote that is fundamental to every Indian citizen. A fetter that essentially discriminates against the men in uniform for no fault of theirs.
After doing the usual rounds of the bureaucracy and the Election Commission and finding that there was the usual callousness and apathy, I elected to approach the SC with a PIL. Responding to my plea filed in February this year for a stay on the discriminatory EC ruling, Justice R. M. Lodha questioned the "logic behind this provision" and, in an Interim Order, set aside the EC ruling and directed the EC to facilitate registration of armed forces personnel posted in peace stations, as on 01 January, 2014, and their families, as general voters in the constituency of their posting. The EC counsel could not explain the reason for this discriminatory rule that differentiates between civilians and armed forces personnel. With this landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has paved the way for our defence personnel in peace stations to exercise their franchise in the coming Lok Sabha elections.
As with most issues facing our nation today, the Supreme Court again came to the rescue – this time to the rescue of armed forces personnel when it said that the government's arguments against allowing soldiers to register for voting in areas like Jammu & Kashmir and North East owing to change in demographics, needs to be further debated and understood. Emphasizing that the soldiers could not be deprived of their right to vote, the entire matter was referred to a 3-member bench.
The Supreme Court order comes after several months of my campaign - both inside and outside Parliament - for voting rights of soldiers. I have engaged with and had Open House Sessions with defence veterans and ex-servicemen on this issue - all of whom unanimously demanded that the Armed Forces personnel must be enabled to vote in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. I also wrote letters to the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioner, and also met them, and urged them to ensure that these brave men and women, along with their families, are enabled to use their democratic right to franchise, just like any other citizen, at their place of posting / residence.
Apart from highlighting the Role of the Supreme Court in contemporary Governance, this issue also demonstrates the power of social media. I was stunned by the speed with which over 80,000 citizens supported my online petition to the Chief Election Commissioner on, and joined my fight to remove this unacceptable fetter posed by the discriminatory EC ruling, and enable these brave men and women and their families to participate in this important democratic exercise.

Even though we have achieved a major victory, the case continues. Those serving in forward areas must also get to vote as General voters. I am committed to get justice for these brave men and women – to whom the country is indebted due to their valour, professionalism, selflessness and discipline. Also required is the determination by the Court, of the constitutionality of the actions of the EC that caused this problem to start with.


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