Jammu and Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer Hirdesh Kumar on Wednesday said around 25 lakh new voters are expected to be enrolled in the Union Territory, with those “ordinarily” residing in J&K and having achieved the age of 18 or above as on October 1 to be included. A special summary revision of electoral rolls is being held for the first time in J&K after abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, a precursor to long-awaited elections in the state.
All those not enlisted as voters earlier were eligible to vote after the abrogation of Article 370, Kumar said, as provisions of the Representation of the People Act also applied to the UT now. Pointing out that there was no need for one to have a domicile certificate or to be a permanent resident to get enlisted as a voter in J&K any more, the CEO said that an employee, a student, a labourer, or anyone else ordinarily residing in J&K can become a voter now. Their documents will be scrutinised by officials before a decision is taken, he added.
Political parties in Kashmir reacted sharply to the news, accusing the BJP of tilting the balance in its favour. “Is the BJP so insecure about support from genuine voters of J&K that it needs to import temporary voters to win seats?” National Conference leader Omar Abdullah tweeted.
There were 76 lakh enlisted voters in J&K when the last revision of electoral rolls was done on January 1, 2019, the CEO said. “We are expecting a massive increase in the number of voters given that a large number of youngsters have attained the age of 18 and more during the past three years,” Kumar said, estimating the total eligible voters to now be around 98 lakh.
On questions regarding timing of the next Assembly elections in J&K, Kumar said the Election Commission was the authority to take a decision on that.
PDP chief and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said the government seemed set to delay polls in the UT. She said the “egregious gerrymandering tilting the balance in BJPs favour & now allowing non locals to vote is obviously to influence election results. Real aim is to continue ruling J&K with an iron fist to disempower locals”. She also called the change in voter enrolment rules “an extension of the ‘tactical rigging process’ that started with the unconstitutional and illegal delimitation process in J&K”.
People’s Conference chairman Sajad Lone called the move “dangerous” and “disastrous”. “This is much more than a mischief. Democracy is a relic especially in the context of Kashmir. Please remember 1987. We are yet to come out of that. Don’t replay 1987. It will be as disastrous,” he tweeted, in a reference to the rigged elections that were the one of the triggers for militancy in Kashmir.
CPM leader S Y Tarigami said the CEO’s announcement “amounts to disenfranchising the people of Jammu and Kashmir further”. “The delimitation process… was an attempt to change the electoral demography of the region… Today’s statement of the CEO is a brazen assault on the legitimate aspirations of the people.”
The CEO said that the same as residents of J&K working in the armed and paramilitary forces and posted outside the UT could get themselves registered as service voters and avail postal ballot, those posted here from different parts of the country could also enlist themselves as voters.
According to the rescheduled time line issued by the Election Commission recently, an integrated draft electoral roll will be published on September 15, after undertaking mapping of old constituencies with new ones following delimitation. One can file claims and objections between September 15 and October 25, and these would be disposed of by November 10. The publication of the final electoral rolls will take place on November 25.
The earlier deadline for this was October 31, and parties believe the new date means polls will not be held this year.
About Kashmiri migrants residing outside the Valley, the CEO said there was already a special provision for such displaced populations to enable them to exercise their franchise. He said camps are being held to register new voters among them.
He dismissed apprehensions that Rohingya Muslims residing in Jammu can get themselves registered as voters.
J&K has been without an elected government since June 2018, when the PDP and BJP alliance split.