J & K – UT Elections Scenarios - The First Cut
There are all indicators that elections will be held in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir during the winters this year or in 2023.
There is a need for providing a democratic face to the government in the Union Territory of J & K.
For meeting political aspirations of the people in the Union Territory, holding elections has become essential.
India will be chairing the all-important Group of 20 Forum in 2023. There are indications that some of the meetings of the Forum which spans a year could be held in J & K, if so then a democratically elected government would defuse the propaganda by Pakistan on suppression of the people and rights violations in Kashmir.
However, over the past three years the electoral as well as political situation in Jammu and Kashmir has become increasingly complex.
The Delimitation Commission has reset constituencies and the UT Election Commission has proposed voting rights to those who are normally non-residents.
Two new parties have emerged after August 2019 – the Apni Party almost immediately thereafter and a most recent one led by breakaway Congress leader Ghulam Nabhi Azad.
Given multiple complexities that are evident in run up to elections to the assembly of the Union Territory, geographic divisions and political developments including emergence of new parties, a fractured mandate with possibility of a coalition appears a possible option in Jammu and Kashmir. But firstly a survey of the election constituencies and schedule-
Decision by Delimitation Commission
As per the Delimitation C1ommission, o1ut of the 90 Assembly Constituencies in the Union Territory, 43 will be part of Jammu region and 47 for Kashmir region keeping in view the provisions of Section 9(1)(a) of the Delimitation Act, 2002 and Section 60(2)(b) of Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019.
After consultation with Associate Members, representatives of political parties, citizens, civil society groups, 9ACs have been reserved for STs, out of which,6 are in Jammu region and 3 ACs in the Valley.
Announcement by Elections Commission
The Election Commission of India (ECI) notified the schedule of Special Summary Revision (SSR) with reference to October 1, 2022, as the qualifying date, in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir with an opportunity for youth attaining 18 years on it (qualifying date) or earlier to become part of voters list in the UT.
As per its notification, November 25, 2022, has been set as the deadline for publication of final electoral roll, after due disposal of all claims and objections filed within the stipulated time period. The ECI notification issued in this regard on August 8, 2022, was in continuation to its earlier notification dated June 29, 2022.
Announcement by State Electoral Officer
In an important development, on August 17, the chief electoral officer of J&K, Hirdesh Kumar Singh, told reporters in Jammu that the ongoing special summary revision of electoral rolls — a process seen by analysts as a preparatory move for the region’s first assembly election in eight years — is likely to add around 25 Lakh or 2.5 million voters.
The increase, he explained, was because the exercise was being held after three years, a period in which the region’s special status was scrapped.
This allowed the inclusion of “ordinary residents” — and not just permanent residents — in the electoral rolls.
“After the abrogation of Article 370, many people who weren’t voters in the assembly can now be named on the voters’ list to cast their vote... and no person needs to be a permanent resident of the state/UT,” Singh had said as per Greater Kashmir.
As per CEO Hirdesh Kumar, the non-locals including those who are living in the region for employment, labourers, students, and even armed forces personnel from other states who are posted at peace stations in J&K — just anyone from outside J&K living in the region can now vote in the elections as per a report in Greater Kashmir.
The requirement of domicile is not necessary for outsiders to get enlisted as voters.
The announcement by the Chief Electoral Officer has led to resentment in the Valley amongst local parties who are fearing that temporary voters will vote for the BJP.
Thus, National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah on September 05 speaking at a worker’s convention in Shopian South Kashmir called for locals to register themselves in the electoral rolls. He indicated that identity was the main issue for the UT elections.
"It is about protecting our identity and dignity. We have to send such representatives to the legislature who would not trade-off people's dignity and honour." Abdullah said.
"Allowing non-locals to vote in Jammu and Kashmir will be disastrous. The powers that are pitted against NC are so insecure about the support from genuine voters that they have to import temporary voters to win seats," Abdullah said at a workers' convention in Shopian. The Lok Sabha MP from Srinagar said such "nefarious designs" will not
Thus, parties dominant in the Valley are expected to focus on identity -a theme that could well spread to the Jammu region.
Against this backdrop, People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) chairman, Farooq Abdullah, will hold an all-party meet at his Jammu residence on September 10 over the proposed inclusion of around 2.5 million non-local voters in the electoral rolls of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
This comes even as National Conference (NC) announced that it would contest on all the 90 seats of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly whenever polls are held.
This is a surprise as the PAGD was expected to contest the elections as a coalition.
Soon after the NC’s resolution, Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — an important member of PAGD — said that the alliance was formed for a larger objective.
“PAGD was conceived for a much larger cause than just an electoral alliance. If some constituent of the alliance has reservations for any kind of electoral alliance, that will not impact our unity,” PDP chief spokesman Suhail Bukhari said.
Ghulam Nabi Azad a veteran Congress leader who has large base in the Chenab region resigned from the Party and is due to form a new configuration in the State.
The exodus from the Jammu and Kashmir unit of Congress saw former PCC president Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed resigning from the party’s primary membership and pledging support to veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.
32 Congress leaders have resigned from the party till August 31. All the leaders are close to Congress veteran.
In his first public meeting in Jammu after resigning from the Congress, Azad announced restoration of full statehood, right to land and employment to native domicile as the three main issues on which his party will contest the polls.
The BJP on the other hand is confident given the majority support that it enjoys in the Jammu region and fragmentation of political parties and space that the Party will field a Chief Minister for the first time in the Valley.
Security Review – Was it For Elections?
Union Home Minister, Shri Amit Shah held a review meeting in New Delhi on the security situation in Jammu & Kashmir in August.
The Lieutenant Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, Shri Manoj Sinha, the National Security Advisor, Shri AjitDoval and other senior officials of the Government of India, including the Army and Jammu & Kashmir Government attended the meeting.
The review meeting by the Home Minister Shri Amit Shah comes after the successful conduct of the Amarnath Yatra an annual pilgrimage to a holy shrine of Lord Shiva deep in the mountains which is accessed through Kashmir Valley.
Now the review meeting would have discussed the possibility of holding elections in the Union Territory eve as political activity in the State has increased with parties which are examining the potential prospects given the changes that have been brought about in the constituencies and other tweaks such as addition of number of voters including some who are not normally residing in the State.
A Pakistan-sponsored online mouthpiece for the Lashkar-backed terror outfit The Resistance Front [TRFon warned of a more intense wave of attacks targeting "migrant Pandits" and other "non-locals" in J&K, ostensibly in response to the chief electoral officer's estimate that the ongoing summary revision of rolls could see the addition of up to 25 lakh new voters in the Union Territory. So spoiling actions can be anticipated but these will not disrupt the polls.
Given the multiple issues that have been flagged as above particularly fragmentation of political space in Jammu and Kashmir, it is unlikely that any party will gain an absolute majority, thus a coalition may be the outcome.
In such a scenario the BJP which has a large base in Jammu region is expected to emerge as the largest party and thus will field a Chief Minister.
Regional parties based in Kashmir are however concerned over such an outcome thus the post elections scenario may be murky.
What ever the case may be, providing people of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir a choice to elect their own representatives should be undertaken soonest.