A possible call by separatists to boycott the state elections this month-end may add to the winter chill in Jammu and Kashmir but the political heat has begun to rise in Srinagar.
With less than ten days to go for the first phase of polling on November 25, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has accused the BJP of trying to manipulate the system by registering migrants as new voters — even those who left Kashmir after 1990, when the separatist movement was at its peak, and who have resettled elsewhere.
His main worry, it appears, is that these migrant votes may prove crucial, especially in areas where the general turnout would be less — as it had happened in some areas during the Lok Sabha polls — due to a boycott call.
“We want all genuine Kashmiri Pandits who are resettled outside the state to vote but what we do not want is that the BJP manipulates the system to suit their advantage and give them electoral gains,” Abdullah told The Indian Express.
“We have no problem with the right to vote of those migrants who left the valley before 1990. But even those who left the valley after 1990, and have resettled in other parts of the country and may even be registered as voters there, are being brought into the electoral rolls for the Assembly polls.”
The Chief Minister said that he had received complaints in this regard from leaders of his party in areas such as Habba Kadal, Amira Kadal and Sopore.
“The nature of the problem is serious since even those who left the valley prior to 1990 are now being registered as migrant voters. This makes a difference in pockets or constituencies which are Muslim-dominated and where a poll boycott is expected to be effective — even a block of 2,000-3,000 migrant votes may end up swinging the result.”
As an example, Abdullah pointed to Sopore, which has around 8,000 migrant voters and where the boycott call given by the separatists is being taken seriously. “In pockets in the valley where the voter turnout was high like in Ganderbal, this does not matter. But in constituencies where the turnout will be low this time around too, every migrant vote will count.”
Abdullah also referred to a scheme for “transitory” migrants, which allows them to vote in the elections at special booths in Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi, that was announced recently by the Chief Electoral Officer of J&K.
According to the norms governing the scheme, the heads of families eligible to vote need to indicate their preferred polling station by filling a non-statutory ‘M’ form.
The Chief Minister said he had heard that the mandatory process of scrutinising this form was also being done away with, even for the registration of migrants who had left the valley before 1990. “The General Secretary of the National Conference will be taking up this complaint with the election authorities soon,” Abdullah said.