Army gets poll body notice over “vote by phone” complaint, issues denial

Army gets poll body notice over “vote by phone” complaint, issues denial

Srinagar, May 10: Army officers posted in Jammu and Kashmir’s Leh province have been accused of violating electoral norms by asking soldiers to specify their voting preferences by phone and casting votes on their behalf instead of adhering to the standard procedure of providing ballot papers. A complaint in this regard was cited in a notice issued by Leh Election Officer Avny Lavasa to top army authorities Friday.
“A complaint has been received from a contesting candidate for the Ladakh parliamentary constituency for the Lok Sabha elections, 2019… 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 votes,” the notice said, adding that this was a gross violation of “secrecy of voting” and a “malpractice that has the potential to invite strict legal action”.
A press release issued by the Leh Election Officer identified the complainants as independent candidates Sajjad Hussain and Asgar Ali Karbalai, but clarified that no specific instances were mentioned. “These have been brought to the notice of army authorities, who have been requested to sensitise the officers concerned regarding the procedures prescribed,” it said.
However, the army rejected the allegations. “Preliminary investigations indicate that the complaints are unfounded and appear to have been made to tarnish the image of the army. An in-depth investigation is on to ascertain the details in the most impartial manner,” said Colonel Rajesh Kalia, Public Relations Officer (Defence) in Srinagar. “The army remains apolitical and we hold this core value in letter and spirit.”
The matter is also being investigated by the Leh Sub-Area General Officer Commanding, a Major General, the army said.
This is not the first time the security forces have been accused of electoral malpractices during the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. The National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) alleged last month that Border Security Force personnel tried to coerce voters in Jammu’s Poonch to vote for the BJP — sparking protests at the spot.
“A voter at a polling booth in Jammu was manhandled by the BSF because he refused to cast his vote for the BJP. Using armed forces at polling stations to coerce people to vote for the BJP shows their desperation & hunger to usurp power by hook or crook,” PDP president Mehbooba Mufti had tweeted then, attaching a video of the incident.