A startling allegation has emerged on Friday from the election administration in Ladakh about malpractices in voting by soldiers.
Avny Lavasa, the deputy commissioner of Leh, who is also the district election officer, has written to the Army corps commander in Leh stating: “It is alleged that there are malpractices on part of various commanding officers of the Indian Army in the electronic postal ballot system. It is alleged that the commanding officers are telephonically asking jawans for their voting preference rather than supplying to them the ballot paper for casting his (sic) vote.”
“This is a gross violation of secrecy of voting and a malpractice that has the potential to invite strict legal action… Commanding officers may be sensitised about the issue and the sanctity of the electoral process maintained,” says the letter.
If true, this would constitute a serious violation of the right of soldiers to vote in secret. Even more worrying, if a commanding officer is stamping ballot papers, with no way for the voting soldier to check it, there is the possibility that his vote could have been diverted to a candidate preferred by the individual stamping their ballot paper.
The letter, dated May 10, follows a complaint by two contesting candidates — Sajjad Hussain and Asghar Ali Karbalai — in the Kargil parliamentary constituency. It has also been addressed to the commanding officer of the Ladakh Scouts Regimental Centre, which would indicate that locally recruited soldiers from the Ladakh Scouts were allegedly deprived of their voting rights.
When contacted for comments, the Army headquarters in Delhi stated: “Preliminary investigations indicate that the complaints are unfounded and appear to have been made to tarnish the image of the Army.”
Promising an “in-depth investigation”, the Army stated: “Army remains apolitical and we hold this core value in letter and spirit.”
Lavasa is a highly regarded Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from the 2013 batch. She is the daughter of former IAS officer, Ashok Lavasa, who is currently an Election Commissioner.
While this is the only instance where an election officer has raised an allegation of voting malpractices in the Army, there have been similar reports of commanding officers voting on behalf of their troops in other sectors. In Jammu, there were reports that a signals regiment commanding officer had diverted all his subordinates’ votes to a particular political party.