Rajat Sharma

If Indians can vote anywhere in India, why not in Jammu and Kashmir?

akb fullFollowing an outcry by non-BJP opposition parties in Jammu and Kashmir, the Jammu administration late on Wednesday night withdrew its earlier order authorizing tehsildars (revenue officials) to issue certificates of residence to those residing in Jammu for more than a year to enable them to register as voters. The certificates were to be issued on the basis of ground verification of people who have been living in Jammu region for over a year, but do no possess any document prescribed by the Election Commission of India.

No reason was specified for the withdrawal of the order that was issued on Tuesday by District Election Officer and Deputy Commissioner of Jammu, Avny Lavasa, after taking note of some eligible voters facing hardships in registration as voters for non-availability of required documents. Already the Special Summary Revision of electoral rolls has begin in the Union Territory from September 15 for registration of new voters and for deletion, correction and transposition of voters who have migrated or died since the last revision.

Three former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti, Dr. Farooq Abdullah and Ghulam Nabi Azad opposed the move alleging that the Centre was trying to change the demography of the union territory.

JKPDP chief Mehbooba Mufti said, giving voting rights to people from outside Jammu region can lead to a deluge of people from outside. She tweeted: “ECI’s latest order for registration of new voters makes it clear that the GOI’s colonial settler project has been initiated in Jammu. They will bear the first blow to Dogra culture, identity, employment and business.”

Speaking to reporters in Kulgam, Mehbooba Mufti alleged that BJP has “an illegitimate intent” behind the abrogation of Article 370. “Their aim is to change the population ratio in Jammu and Kashmir. It will start in Jammu when a sea of people will come from outside and it will harm the Dogras who will lose out on business, employment and resources.”

Dr Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference claimed that the BJP “is scared of elections and knows it will lose badly. That’s why it is going ahead with its plan to add 25 lakh non-local voters here. People of Jammu and Kashmir must defeat these conspiracies at the ballot box”, the party said in a tweet.

National Conference leader Ratanlal Gupta’s remark is correct that the Chief Electoral Officer of J&K had said that names of 25 lakh new voters will be included in the electoral rolls, but he did not mention why the CEO said this. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there were 78.4 lakh voters. Excluding the separate UT of Ladakh, the number was 76.7 lakhs. During the last three years, nearly 22 lakh youths have attained the age of more than 18 years and are therefore eligible to vote. The CEO had mentioned the number of 25 lakh new voters in this context.

The group of non-BJP parties ‘People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration” (PAGD), led by Dr Farooq Abdullah, has already formed a 14-member committee to chalk out a strategy to stop “any attempt at manipulation and inclusion of non-locals in the revised electoral rolls”. The PAGD also includes leaders from Congress, Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party and Dogra Sadar Sabha.

On the other hand, BJP has favoured inclusion of non-locals who have been residing for long duration in Jammu region in the electoral rolls. State BJP chief Ravinder Raina said, though Lavasa has withdrawn her order, the Constitution of India is there, and as per its provisions, no one can stop anybody from getting registered as a voter at a particular place.

Raina said, “As per the provision of Representation of People’s Act, anyone who is long residing at a place, is entitled to shift his vote to the play of stay from his place of birth. There is nothing wrong in it, and even the Constitution gives every citizen the right to get enrolled as voter at a place of his choice.” Raina also said that thousands of people who had come from Pakistan or PoK, had no right to vote till now, and they should not get the right to exercise their vote.

According to the Deputy Commissioner’s order, now withdrawn, anybody residing in Jammu region for more than one year, can include his name in the electoral rolls, by submitting water, electricity or gas connection bills, or Aadhar card, bank or post office savings account passbook, or passport, Kisan book, or land ownership document, or home registry document, or rent or lease agreement. The inclusion will be subject to ground verification by BLOs (booth level officers).

Former Congress leader and Democratic Azad Party chief Ghulam Nabi Azad said, the order will increase social tensions in Jammu and Kashmir. Azad said, only locals in Jammu and Kashmir should get the right to vote.

There were mixed reactions from common people. Some residents told India TV that the nation’s laws must be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir now and non-locals must get the right to vote, but several others said, if J&K should have its own government, what is the point in giving voting rights to non-locals?

Political leaders have their own axes to grind when it comes to the issue of voters. But let me narrate some facts. There are at present more than 22 lakh youths in Jammu and Kashmir who are already 18 years of age. Their names will be included in the electoral rolls. There are more than 1,46,000 people who had fled Pakistan and PoK and settled in Jammu and Kashmir, but they were denied voting rights because of Article 370. Their names will also be included in the rolls.

There are nearly 14 lakh people who have been living in Jammu and Kashmir for more than 10 years, but they were denied voting rights due to Article 370. There are more than 3.5 lakh people who have been living J&K for more than three years, and their names are not there in the electoral rolls. The order issued on Tuesday, but later withdrawn, gave voting rights to residents living in Jammu region for more than one year.

In other states of India, the Election Commission allows revision of electoral rolls after every three months. Anybody from Punjab living in Delhi for more than three years, can get his name included in Delhi electoral rolls. So, it is unfair to say that new voters registration rules are being implemented in Jammu and Kashmir. The fact is that “One Flag, One Constitution” is now in force in Jammu and Kashmir after the annulment of Article 370. The politicians of Kashmir valley must realize that the old days are over.

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