J&K Voter Roll Revision: ‘Routine’ Exercise or Elections on the Cards?
After a gap of three years, the EC has finally ordered a special summary revision of electoral rolls in J&K.
After a gap of three years, the Election Commission of India has finally ordered a special summary revision of electoral rolls in Jammu and Kashmir, signalling that elections could be held either this year or early next year.
In a letter to Jammu & Kashmir’s Chief Electoral Officer, the Election Commission has directed that the entire exercise of special summary revision be completed by 31 October 2022, along with the final publication of electoral rolls. The revision needs to be done before the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir sees its first assembly election.
The revision of electoral rolls could not be conducted in the last three years due to the constitutional changes effected on 5 August 2019 and the delimitation exercise.
The Election Commission ordered the revision after a three-member Delimitation Commission unveiled a new electoral map of the Union Territory.
L-G's Invitation to Parties
The poll body’s announcement of the revision exercise coincided with Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) Manoj Sinha’s invitation to all mainstream political parties to the Raj Bhawan in Srinagar. This was the first time since the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 that the L-G Secretariat invited representatives of different political parties to interact with the L-G.
Days after this meeting, on 2 July, L-G Sinha, during an event in Jammu, said that elections in the Union Territory will “surely” take place after the completion of electoral revision and that the restoration of statehood would follow at an “appropriate time”. News agency PTI quoted Sinha as saying, “First delimitation, then election, and ultimately, statehood will also be restored at an appropriate time.”
Last month, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also made a brief mention of elections in Jammu & Kashmir. “Since the delimitation process is completed, I feel there is a strong possibility that the election process will begin by the end of this year,” Singh said in Jammu, where he was addressing an event celebrating the 200th year of the coronation of Maharaja Gulab Singh.
Sources in the office of the Chief Electoral Officer said generally, the revision of electoral rolls is done every year. However, this time, the revision, which comes after a gap of three years, could be the beginning of the preparations for assembly polls in Jammu & Kashmir.
“The revision of electoral rolls is a routine exercise and has no direct connection with polls. The revision is done to register newly eligible electors in the electoral roll and remove those who have passed away during the specific period. So far, there has been no communication regarding any fixed time for holding elections in Jammu & Kashmir. But the revision can also be an indirect indication about poll preparations,” sources said.
'Waiting for Three Years'
Political analyst Noor Mohammad Baba says that though conducting elections is the prerogative of the Election Commission, it has to take a situation report from the Union Home Ministry and the Jammu & Kashmir government in view of the situation.
“EC can start poll preparations in Jammu & Kashmir only if it has received a nod from the Central government. I do not understand why the poll exercise is being delayed. We have been waiting for the last three years for elections to take place,” said Baba, former head of the Political Science department at Kashmir University.
He adds that prolonged bureaucratic control is not viable in any society. “A democratic government is more beneficial for people. In a democratic set-up, elected local representatives are not just accessible to people, but communication, as well as accountability, are also smooth,” Baba added.
Baba says even if statehood is not restored, people would find it easy to approach their elected representatives about the redressal of basic grievances such as power, roads, water and employment.
'Routine Exercise', Say Parties
Political parties in Jammu & Kashmir have termed the revision of electoral rolls a routine exercise, though they expressed hope that elections would be held soon.
National Conference leader and former Jammu & Kashmir Law Minister, Ali Mohammad Sagar, wonders how long the Central government would defer elections. “The government at the Centre is taking decisions at its own will, but the elections will have to be conducted someday,” said Sagar.
Sagar also questioned the Delimitation Commission for ignoring the population parameter while marking seats for Jammu & Kashmir. “A fair delimitation based on population should have been taken into consideration since it is the cardinal parameter in such a process.”
On 5 May, the delimitation panel announced its final order, allotting 47 seats to Kashmir and 43 seats to the Jammu region. The Commission considered the 2011 census for delimiting territorial constituencies.
The erstwhile Legislative Assembly had 87 seats – 46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu and four in Ladakh. In the reorganisation of the erstwhile state, Ladakh was declared a separate Union Territory without a legislature.
Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a spokesman for the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) and senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, said that one can only wonder whether the elections will be held soon. “The government of India is not doing any favour if it decides to conduct elections. The prolonged delay of the electoral exercise in Jammu & Kashmir is surprising,” he said.
Tarigami, who attended the recent meeting called by the L-G Secretariat, said that L-G Sinha only sought cooperation from political parties in ensuring a smooth Amarnath Yatra. “No political discussion was initiated by the L-G or by any political leader during the meeting.”
Both Sagar and Tarigami believe that statehood should be restored before elections are conducted. “Almost all parties are asking the government to restore statehood before the elections. In the all-party meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year, too, all political leaders had urged for the restoration of statehood,” said Tarigami.
A Welcome Move: Cong Leader
Altaf Thakur, a spokesman for the Jammu & Kashmir unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said elections are expected to be held later this year or early next year. “We are ready. This time, the BJP will get 40-plus seats in Jammu & Kashmir and 10 seats in the Kashmir Valley,” he said.
Former Union minister and Congress leader Saifuddin Soz said despite the delay, conducting elections will be a welcome move from the government. “The democratic process should be restored immediately so that political representatives are held accountable. Elections should be held regularly so that the troubles that people are going through would end.”
On 19 June 2018, the coalition government of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was also the last elected government of Jammu & Kashmir, collapsed after the BJP pulled out of the alliance citing a ‘deteriorating’ security situation.
After a year, in August 2019, Article 370, which gave special powers to Jammu & Kashmir, was scrapped by the Central government and the state was split into two Union Territories.
Before the 5 August move, only permanent residents of Jammu & Kashmir, popularly known as ‘state subjects’, were eligible to vote. The summary revision would now allow, for the first time, the displaced persons of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to apply for voting rights. Currently, they are allowed to vote in parliamentary elections but not in assembly polls.
(Irfan Amin Malik is a journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets @irfanaminmalik.)
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