A day after violence during the bypoll to the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat left eight persons dead and scores injured, the Election Commission Monday deferred the Anantnag parliamentary bypoll, slated for April 12, to May 25 following a report from the J&K government that the law and order situation in the south Kashmir constituency was not conducive for free and fair elections. Violence marred polling in Srinagar Sunday which recorded a voter turnout of only 7.14 per cent, a new low for the prestigious seat in the Valley. This set off a blame game in Delhi between the Home Ministry and the Election Commission with the former saying it had advised the poll panel against holding the bypolls in Srinagar and Anantnag.
On Monday, Tasaduq Mufti, brother of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and PDP candidate for the Anantnag seat, also urged the commission to postpone the bypoll “till the situation becomes conducive”.
The Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency in south Kashmir, simmering ever since the crackdown on street protesters last year, is spread across Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag districts. The seat was vacated by Mehbooba Mufti last year after she resigned from Lok Sabha to take over as Chief Minister.
On Monday, the Mehbooba government despatched a report to the commission, requesting deferment of the Anantnag bypoll on the ground that “there may be violent attempts by some miscreant elements to thwart the polling process in the constituency”.
Earlier in the day, a government school was set on fire — the second in two days — in the Padderpora area of Shopian. The school was a designated booth for the Anantnag bypoll.
Apart from the state administration’s advice, the commission’s final decision on postponement was based on inputs of the state chief electoral officer, divisional commissioner of south Kashmir and the returning officer of the constituency.
Meanwhile, a war of words erupted in Delhi between the Home Ministry and the Election Commission following the Sunday violence in Srinagar. Sources said the Home Ministry had sent a letter to the poll panel, soon after the announcement of the election schedule on March 10, pointing out that it was not consulted on the bypolls.
The Home Ministry was learnt to have suggested that the EC should not hold the elections on the proposed dates, and wait till after the panchayat elections in the state, since the current atmosphere was not conducive. This advice, MHA officials claimed, was ignored. But EC sources said if prevailing conditions were conducive for panchayat polls, then holding of parliamentary elections should also be possible.
Commission officials also said that election for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat was due before April 16 and it was a constitutional obligation. “We consulted the state government on the subject as it is responsible for law and order and security issues,” EC officials said. The Home Ministry’s responsibility is to provide central paramilitary forces. The commission, its officials maintained, was not bound to consult the MHA before holding any election.