Tuesday, March 5, 2024

25 lakh new voters could be a game-changer in J & K elections

After the “special summary revision’’ of electoral rolls in Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir, between 20 to 25 lakh new voters can get added. This can hugely impact the electoral demography in the UT and upset the applecart in many of the 90 legislative assembly constituencies. The figure of addition of up to 25 lakh voters was quoted by Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Hridesh Kumar Singh a week ago at a press conference. Incidentally, around 75 assembly segments during 2014 assembly elections had less than a lakh voters. 

Singh said that after the abrogation of Article 370, people “ordinarily resident’’ in the UT are now eligible for getting themselves enrolled in new voter lists. He said that this means that people staying in J&K as students, due to jobs, working as ordinary labourers, or even business will get voting rights in the upcoming assembly election. It is a very significant decision in that the requirement of being a “Permanent Resident’’ as defined earlier in J&K Constitution (now scrapped) is not there.

In fact, West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) staying in J&K since 1947, members of the Valmiki community, Gorkhas and some others staying for decades were not eligible earlier to cast their votes in the assembly elections. All these people voted only in the Lok Sabha elections and not in assembly or panchayat elections. Besides the categories enumerated above, the inclusion of labourers, students, businessmen and employees staying in J&K can participate in these elections now.

A drastic change in the electoral demography of the UT is something that can be safely predicted. “We expect an increase of over 20 to 25 lakh voters after the completion of the special summary revision of the electoral rolls whose final announcement will be made on November 25, 2022,” Singh had announced at the press conference held at Nirvachan Bhawan in Jammu.

This statement has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons, mainly in the Kashmir valley. Almost all leaders of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) have strongly opposed the move. Incidentally, PAGD includes National Conference (NC) of Abdullahs, People’s Democratic Party headed by Mehbooba Mufti, CPM headed by Yusuf Tarigami and some other Kashmir-based parties. 

People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone, once aligned with the BJP, and later with PAGD which he deserted later, termed this inclusion of outsiders in the voters’ lists as dangerous. Lone said that allowing non-locals to vote in assembly elections will be disastrous.

“This is dangerous. I don’t know what they want to achieve. This is much more than mischief. Democracy is a relic, especially in the context of Kashmir. Please remember 1987. We are yet to come out of that,” he said. He was alluding to alleged rigging in the assembly elections of that year when the NC and Congress had fought together. It is fairly common to blame the cycle of violence that started in late 1989-90 to that alleged rigging.

“We have been witnessing how the elections are being rigged everywhere in the country, even before and after the elections as well. The BJP is not going to change the country into Hindu Rashtra, but in BJP Rashtra,” Mehbooba Mufti has said.

NC leader Omar Abdullah said: “Is the BJP so insecure about support from genuine voters of J&K that it needs to import temporary voters to win seats? None of these things will help the BJP when the people of J&K are given a chance to exercise their franchise.” 

Pertinently, last summary revision of electoral rolls was based on the cut-off date of January 1, 2019. So, when draft electoral rolls are published on September 15, a much more clearer picture is expected to emerge. According to CEO Singh, the special summary revision period has been enhanced from ordinary 30 days to 40 days, up to October 1 this year. A new feature of the electoral photo identity cards this time, with enhanced security features, will be their linkage to Aadhar Cards, via form 6 B.

It was on May 5, 2022, that Delimitation Commission had submitted its report to the Central government. In that report, it had recommended creation of seven new assembly segments with total number pegged at 90. Of these, nine have been reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs) for the first time and seven for Scheduled Castes (SCs). 

According to new delimitation order, 47 seats have gone to Kashmir and 43 to the Jammu region. From the point of view of population alone, this means that a population of 56.12 percent in Kashmir has been allocated 52.2 per cent seats, while the Jammu division with a population of 43.84 per cent has been given a share of 47.77 per cent. 

As per Representation of People’s Act, however, population is just one of the five major variables taken into consideration while delimiting electoral segments. Geographical compactness and means of communication are two important yardsticks for delimiting segments. That way, Jammu region spread over 26,293 square kilometres is far bigger than Kashmir which covers an area of 15,948 square kilometres.

Some analysts have termed the “special electoral roll revision’’ in Jammu and Kashmir as an exercise aimed at turning Kashmiri Muslims from “an actual majority to a political minority’’. In the coming days, weeks and months, we will know how right or far-fetched their assessment is in reality. 

Whatever else may be said about J&K, one thing that cannot be denied is that the digit 370 has a strange fascination here. What else explains the fact that the number of polling stations in J&K has gone up by 600 and the total will be 11,370!

Interestingly, Congress president Vikar Rasool Wani and working president Raman Bhalla attended a meeting in Srinagar which was called by NC patriarch Farooq Abdullah. Some leaders of the J&K unit of Shiv Sena were also present in the meeting. Neither Congress nor Shiv Sena are part of the PAGD but participated as it was designated an “all-party meeting’’. 

(Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000.

He edits epaper.earthnews.in, a newspaper from Jammu presently.)

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