The Election Commission has cancelled the Anantnag Lok Sabha bypoll, which was scheduled for May 25, in view of the unconducive and “scary” conditions prevailing in south Kashmir. The 10-page order, issued late Monday night, came after the Home Ministry informed the EC that it could spare only 30,000 central paramilitary personnel for the bypoll, as against 74,000 personnel sought by the Commission. The EC’s decision to cancel the bypoll was based on the state government’s assessment of the ground situation in south Kashmir. According to the report of the J&K Chief Secretary sent to the EC on April 20, the order said, polls in Anantnag might not only witness large-scale violence but also an abysmal turnout.
“The reports received from the state administration of Jammu and Kashmir, including the reports of the Chief Electoral Officer of the state and the Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir show that there has been no noticeable improvement in the law and order situation in the four districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam, which constitute the 2-Anantnag parliamentary constituency, after the 10th April, 2017, when the Commission deferred the date of poll in the constituency from 12th April to 25th May, 2017,” the EC order stated.
“On the contrary, these reports reveal further continuous deterioration in the situation and the incidents of stone-pelting, violence and rioting have been on the increase including loss of life. The apprehension expressed by the Chief Electoral Officer that there may be reluctance on the part of the polling personnel to go to the polling location in view of the fear in their minds with regard to their safety and security is also a matter of concern,” it stated. The bypoll in Anantnag was moved from April 12 to May 25 after eight people were killed and more than two dozen were injured in the clashes between police and protesters during the Srinagar bypoll on April 9. Separatist factions in Kashmir had called for a boycott of the vote, resulting in heightened security and the lowest voter turnout in Srinagar in two decades.
The uncertainty over the Anantnag bypoll was evident on April 9 itself after the J&K CEO’s press conference. After the low voter turnout and civilian killings, CEO Shantmanu had said it was “not a good day for all of us”. “There were incidents of stone-pelting, petrol bombs were hurled and a polling booth was set ablaze. EVMs were also damaged in the process but many of these EVMs were received back,” he had said. He had also said that the Election Commission would take a final call on “what is to be done in those cases where elections were not concluded”.
On Monday, the J&K CEO was appointed as Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) in the Union Textiles Ministry. The Anantnag Lok Sabha seat fell vacant after the resignation of the incumbent MP and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti who took over as chief minister of the state last year. The bypoll to fill this vacancy will now only be held in “due course when the situation becomes conducive”, the EC said.