SUGGESTING there were difference in views over the timing of Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the Additional Chief Electoral Officer withdrew an urgent note within hours of sending it to all District Election Officers. The note sought information on district-level nodal officers for the “forthcoming Assembly elections, 2019” within the next two days.
The first note was sent following a meeting between Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra with State Chief Secretary B V R Subrahmanyam, Home Secretary Shaleen Kabra, Director General of Police Dilbag Singh, and Chief Electoral Officer Shailendra Kumar. The meeting on Friday was convened to explore the possibilities of conducting Assembly elections in the state.
“I am directed to enclose herewith a format for submission of information regarding district level nodal officers for the “forthcoming assembly elections, 2019” and request you to submit the same within two days positively. Matter may be treated as most urgent,” the first letter sent by the Additional Chief Electoral Officer read. However, by evening, the Additional Chief Electoral Officer sent another note stating that the first note “stands withdrawn ab-initio”.
The state administration is learnt to have told the Election Commissioners Friday that it is in favour of holding elections in November, like in 2014 and 2008, so that even the nomadic Gujjars and Bakerwals can cast their vote. By then, they would have reached the plains as part of their seasonal migration from higher reaches. The last two Assembly elections in the state were held in phases during November-December.
Weighing the options
The Central Election Commission did not include Jammu and Kashmir among states where Assembly and Lok Sabha polls are being held simultaneously now. After a meeting with top state government officials, it appeared certain Assembly polls will be held in 2019 itself. However, within hours of setting in motion the process, the state unit of the Election Commission withdrew it, suggesting there are differences about the timing, and many considerations before polls are held in the sensitive state.
The state administration, sources added, is also keen to hold Assembly elections in November as the holy month of Ramazan falls in May followed by Eid during the first week of June. Only a week after Eid, security forces are to be deployed for the safe and smooth conduct of 46-day long annual Amarnath pilgrimage to South Kashmir Himalayas beginning July 1, said sources.
The Election Commission (EC) is expected to take a call on the timing of the polls in a meeting next Tuesday. In this meeting, the Commission will consider the state administration’s feedback as well as the suggestions in the report submitted by the three special observers tasked with assessing the situation on ground.
On March 10, when EC announced the schedule for Lok Sabha elections, the Commission had said that it decided against holding state polls in Jammu and Kashmir simultaneously owing to the law-and-order concerns in wake of the Pulwama terror attack. Retired IAS officers Vinod Zutshi (1982 batch) and Noor Mohammed (1977 batch) and retired IPS officer AS Gill (1972 batch) were appointed as special observers to suggest when polls should be held. They submitted their report last week.
For incident-free and smooth conduct of elections, the administration needs to make preparations at least three months in advance including publication of final electoral rolls, training of staff on poll duty, deployment of security forces and transportation of EVMs, and simultaneously extending enough campaign time to contesting candidates.
Following the withdrawal of support by BJP to the Mehbooba Mufti government, Governor’s rule was imposed in Jammu and Kashmir last June. On November 21, Governor Satya Pal Malik unexpectedly dissolved the Legislative Assembly citing horse trading by some political parties. As a sitting of both the Houses of State Legislature could not be convened within six months of Governor’s rule, President rule was imposed in the state on December 19. The President’s rule was for a period of six months.