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Voting Rights to Non-Locals ‘Dangerous, Say J&K Parties After CEO's Announcement

Anees Zargar |
Is BJP so insecure about support from genuine voters of J&K that it needs to import temporary voters to win seats, ask Opposition leaders.
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File Photo.

Srinagar: People who are ordinarily residing in the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir will for the first time be able to register as voters and cast their vote in the next Assembly elections, Hirdesh Kumar Singh, Chief Electoral Officer, J&K, said on Wednesday, drawing strong reaction from the regional political leadership.

“Since the abrogation of Article 370, many people were not eligible for voting. Now they can vote as well. Now people who are living here ordinarily like the residents, who are doing their jobs or are studying here, are labourers or for business purposes can register as voters. There is no need to be a permanent resident now,” Singh said.

The latest announcement allows non-locals to cast their vote in the next Assembly elections of the UT that was earlier limited to state subjects or permanent residents of the erstwhile J&K state. Following the reconstitution of Assembly seats under the delimitation exercise, the official said that 600 new polling stations will be added while the total polling stations will go up to 11,370.

Earlier, the Jammu and Kashmir state had 87 constituencies and with its bifurcation four seats remained with the newly created Ladakh UT.

The Election Commission is making a new electoral roll as per new constituencies, which have undergone changes. The electoral officer added that the new electoral rolls will likely add as many as 2.5 million new voters in the region which after the recently carried out delimitation exercise will have 90 Assembly seats. Of these new 90 seats, seven seats are reserved for the Scheduled Castes (SC) and for the first time, nine seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes (ST).

The official said that the draft voters’ list will be released at every polling station on September 15 and the last date for claims and objections will be October 25. “By November 25, final electoral rolls in accordance with 90 Assembly constituencies will be released,” he said.

The development was criticised by regional political leadership, except the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) that termed the move as a “great step”.

“Welcome the induction of 25 lakh new voters, especially the youth in the new voter list. Democracy flourishing in J&K...also a great step by ECI for giving voting rights in Assembly polls to non-local labourers, those who have come for studies, and those here for security purposes. Regional parties are feeling the heat of real democracy,” BJP’s Altaf Thakur said.

‘Don’t replay 1987. It will be as disastrous’

Reacting to the statement, J&K Peoples Conference president Sajad Gani Lone, however, warned that the step would be a replay of 1987 – implying alleged rigging in the polls that led to the outbreak of insurgency a year later.

“This is dangerous. I don’t know what they want to achieve. This is much more than a mischief. Democracy is a relic especially in the context of Kashmir. Please remember 1987. We are yet to come out of that. Don’t replay 1987. It will be as disastrous,” Lone said.

Former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti lashed out at BJP, claiming that the move was an attempt to influence the Assembly elections.

“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,” Omar Abdullah of the National Conference (NC) tweeted.

“GOIs decision to defer polls in J&K preceded by egregious gerrymandering tilting the balance in BJPs favour & now allowing non locals to vote is obviously to influence election results. Real aim is to continue ruling J&K with an iron fist to disempower locals,” People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti wrote.

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