Army Receives Election Commission's Letter Over 'Vote By Phone' Complaints in Ladakh, Refutes Charges
File image of polling in Jammu and Kashmir (Photo Credits: IANS)

Srinagar, May 10: Avny Lavasa, the Returning Officer (RO) for the Ladakh Lok Sabha seat in Jammu and Kashmir, on Friday wrote a letter to the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 14 Corps, requesting him to direct Army officers not to ask jawans for their voting preference. The letter followed complaints that Army officers were casting jawans' votes by asking their choice over telephone instead of adhering to the standard procedure of providing ballot papers.

"It is alleged that the command officers are telephonically asking jawans for their voting preference, rather than supplying to them the ballot paper for casting his vote," Lavasa said in her letter, citing complaints from two Independents — Congress rebel Asgar Ali Karbalai and Sajjad Hussain Karbalai. "This is a gross violation of secrecy of voting and a malpractice that has the potential to invite strict legal action," she added. Kashmiri Pandits Vote in Special Booths, Hope for End of Terrorism and Return to Homeland.

Lavasa requested Army "to sensitise the officers concerned regarding the procedures prescribed". Reacting to the letter, Colonel Rajesh Kalia, Public Relations Officer (Defence) in Srinagar, said: "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." Jammu And Kashmir: Polling Station Attacked With Petrol Bomb in Shopian.

The matter is also being investigated by the Leh Sub-Area General Officer Commanding, a Major General, the Army added. Last month, leaders of the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) accused soldiers of the Border Security Force (BSF) of coercing voters in Jammu's Poonch to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"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, sharing a video of the incident.

About 4,000 postal ballots have been distributed in Ladakh Lok Sabha constituency, which will vote to polls in Phase 5 of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on May 6. The results will be declared on May 23.