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J&K: Opposition Parties Announce Protests Over Inclusion of Non-Local Voters

The panel, with all 5 PAGD members and other political parties like Congress and DSSP, met for the first time since being constituted on October 8.

Jammu: A committee formed by Opposition parties against the inclusion of non-locals in the electoral rolls in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday decided to hold protests to mobilise public support on the issue.

The panel, which included all the five constituents of the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) and several other political parties like the Congress and the Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party (DSSP) met her for the first time since it was constituted on October 8.

“After discussions, we have decided to go to the people and inform them about the dangers posed by the inclusion of non-locals as voters in J&K.

"Our protests on the roads will be peaceful and in accordance with our constitutional rights,” senior National Conference leader and MP Hasnain Masoodi told reporters after the meeting at the residence of PAGD chairperson and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah here.

Flanked by members of the committee including former minister Lal Singh of DSSP, Awami National Conference president Muzaffar Ahmad Shah, and former MP Sheikh Abdul Rehman, Masoodi said the final decision to start the public outreach programme will be taken after consultation with senior leaders.

“We will put forth the panel's view before the senior leadership and they will take a final call on the timing of the start of the campaign,” he said, adding “this will be done very soon.”

One of the leaders attending the meeting said all members of the panel were present except former minister and DSS president Gulchain Singh Charak due to a "death in his family".

However, three more representatives of different religious and social groups attended the meeting after they were included in the panel, he said.

Masoodi said all the participants are against giving voting rights to non-locals as “it will be tantamount to the disenfranchisement of the local voters”.

Responding to a question about the mode of the public outreach programme, he said “We will be on the roads as per our rights given by the Constitution... . We will get the people together as we are all united on this issue.”

The National Conference leader criticised the now-revoked order of the Deputy Commissioner of Jammu authorising tehsildars (revenue officials) to issue certificates of residence to those residing in the winter capital for more than one year to facilitate their entry in the ongoing special summary revision of electoral rolls.

 “The order of the DC Jammu has reportedly been withdrawn but where is its replacement? The senior leaders are of the view that the government is deliberately keeping the people uninformed while carrying out the exercise,” he said.

He alleged deliberate attempts are being made to divide the people of the two regions – Kashmir and Jammu – and simultaneously both are the "targets of disempowerment".

Masoodi cautioned the government against any move to include non-locals in the voter list and said “only the state subjects (of J&K) have the right to vote in the assembly elections in accordance with our own J&K representation of Peoples Act 1957.”

 “The case related to the abrogation of Article 370 is before the Supreme Court which has yet to decide on the issue.

"The government instead of making any changes should conduct the elections in accordance with the 1957 Act till the final decision of the apex court,” he said.

PAGD, an amalgam of five political parties - National Conference, PDP, CPI(M), CPM and Awami National Conference – is campaigning for the restoration of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Constitution.

Hardening its stand on the issue of inclusion of non-locals as voters in Jammu and Kashmir despite clarification by the administration, PAGD had held two meetings - the first in Srinagar on August 22 and the second in Jammu on September 10.

The issue surfaced when the then chief electoral officer Hirdesh Kumar in August said Jammu and Kashmir is likely to get around 25 lakh additional voters, including outsiders, after the special summary revision of electoral rolls being held for the first time after the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019.

Following an outcry, the Union Territory administration later clarified that “this revision of electoral rolls will cover existing residents of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the increase in numbers will be of the voters who have attained the age of 18 years as of October 1, 2022, or earlier”.

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