Amid the political uproar over an expected addition of 25 lakh new voters in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the administration said on Thursday that the figure includes over 22 lakh first-time voters.
On Wednesday, J&K Chief Electoral Officer Hirdesh Kumar had said that around 25 lakh new voters are expected to be enrolled, with those “ordinarily” residing in J&K and having achieved the age of 18 years or above as on October 1 to be included.
The last special summary revision of electoral rolls was held with reference to January 1, 2019 as the qualifying date. So those who have attained 18 years of age after January 1, 2019 are expected to be registered during this revision, along with those who may have been left out earlier.
“Based on the population projections by the Registrar General of India, the projected 18+ population in J&K as on July 1, 2022 is expected to be 98.96 lakh, whereas the registered electors as on date are over 76 lakh. There is a gap of 22,93,603. It is this gap which was used to convey the tentative expectation from the special summary revision,” government sources told The Indian Express.
Officials said that before the abrogation of Article 370, the electoral rolls for the Assembly polls were made under the ambit of the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act 1957, wherein only permanent residents of J&K were eligible to be registered. “With the abrogation of Article 370 and applicability of the Representation of the People Act 1950 and 1951, any citizen of India who has attained the qualifying age and is ‘ordinarily residing’ at a place is eligible to be registered in the electoral roll of that place, if not disqualified otherwise,” said an official.
On Wednesday, the Chief Electoral Officer had pointed out that there was no need for one to have a domicile certificate or to be a permanent resident to be enlisted as a voter in J&K anymore. He had said that an employee, a student, a labourer, or anyone else ordinarily residing in J&K could become a voter now. Their documents will be scrutinised by officials before a decision is taken, he had said.
According to the administration, even prior to abrogation of Article 370, these people were eligible to be registered in the electoral rolls “if they were ordinarily residing in any Assembly segment of J&K, but had the right to vote only in parliamentary elections and were categorised as Non Permanent Resident (NPR) voters.” According to government data, there were about 32,000 such NPR voters during the last parliamentary elections.
There are no changes to the voting provisions for Kashmiri Pandits. For the Armed Forces, “there already exists a provision for them to be registered as service voters for their native Assembly constituency and avail the facility of electronically transferred postal ballot system,” said sources.
All mainstream parties in the Valley have questioned the expected addition of lakhs of new voters, and accused the BJP of tilting the balance in its favour.
National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah has convened an all-party meeting on August 22 to discuss the issue. “Dr Farooq Abdullah has invited leaders of all political parties for a meeting to discuss the recent announcement by the J&K govt regarding inclusion of non-locals in the voter lists. He personally spoke to the leaders & requested them to attend the meet at 11 AM on Mon, 22nd Aug,” the NC said in a tweet.
PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti said the addition of the new voters is “the last nail in the coffin of electoral democracy in J&K”. Accusing the BJP of adopting “unconstitutional” means to gain power in J&K, she said, “They did part of their rigging with the delimitation commission, achieving as much gerrymandering as they could through that.”
“Is the BJP so insecure about support from genuine voters of J&K that it needs to import temporary voters to win seats?” NC leader Omar Abdullah tweeted on Wednesday.
People’s Conference chairman Sajad Lone has also termed the move as “dangerous” and “disastrous”.