Poll officials have been asked to rationalise polling booths, for which a deadline of 20 June has been set.
New Delhi: The process to conduct elections in Jammu and Kashmir is on “track” and despite the present turmoil in the erstwhile state, Government of India is working on a deadline to complete the election process before this year ends.
The last elections in the union territory were held in five stages and started from 25 November 2015 and went on till 20 December 2015. Official sources and political leaders told The Sunday Guardian that the forthcoming elections are likely to be held on the same time pattern. Election officials in the UT have been asked to rationalise the polling booths in the UT, for which a deadline of 20 June has been set. This will lead to the coming up of new polling booths in view of the delimitation exercise that was carried out in the union territory last year, following which the seats in the UT have increased from 83 to 90.
Once this happens, the revision of the electoral rolls will take place, followed by the publication of the final electoral rolls, which is done after the disposal of claims and objectives. This process is likely to be completed within three months. The final electoral roll is generally published one month after the publication of the draft roll.
Once the final electoral rolls are in place, then the Central Election Commission will decide the dates of the polls in consultation with all stakeholders, including political parties and security agencies. This will be the first election to be held in the UT post the abrogation of Article 370, which was executed in August 2019. As per the new demarcation, Jammu will have 43 seats (an increase of six seats), while Kashmir will have 47 seats (an increase of one seat).
Official sources, while speaking on the recent wave of terror attacks in the valley and how it was going to impact the poll preparations, said that it would be wishful to think that terror groups would not attempt to derail the election process in the UT. “The overall security situation in the UT has improved a lot in recent months, which has resulted in this increased, violent reaction from the terror groups. We are working with the objective to eliminate every possible gun carrying terrorist and stop the entry of new batches of this Pakistan-backed terrorists from across the LoC. We have multiple intercepts that show the increased attacks on civilians are being done to spread fear among the local population and stop them from taking part in any government backed exercise,” a senior official with a security apparatus said.
Senior BJP leader and co-in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir, Ashish Sood, told The Sunday Guardian that the party was ready for elections. “Even if the elections are announced today, we are prepared. Our booth level activities are already happening and our party workers are doing their assigned jobs. We want the elections to happen as soon as possible. The popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has increased significantly in the last few years in the valley, which is going to help us electorally. It is the opposition leaders, those who have looted J&K for so many years, who have now come under the umbrella of ‘Gupkar Alliance’. They are not ready for the elections as they know that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have realised how these local leaders looted and cheated them all these years. The Muftis and Abdullahs, along with their friends in Pakistan, have caused immense damage to J&K, for which the people will defeat them in the coming elections,” said Sood, who has been active in the valley since November 2020.
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) is a political alliance between five parties. National Conference, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), CPI(M), CPI and the Awami National Conference are part of the alliance that was formed in October 2020 post the abrogation of Article 370. Interestingly, on better days, the two biggest parties of this alliance—the National Conference and the PDP—had worked with the BJP at the Centre and in the state in the past. According to Srinagar-based observers, the result of the elections is likely to be determined by “local flavours”.
“The BJP still does not have widespread acceptability in the valley for which it will need local partners like Altaf Bukhari and Sajjad Gani Lone who are expected to contest the election as alliance partners. Similarly, much will depend on how cohesively and accommodative the PAGD leaders will be to each other’s demand. The PAGD had won 110 of the 280 district development council seats in 2020. The BJP won 75 and was the single largest party. As was expected, PAGD won the majority of its seats in Kashmir valley, with the BJP doing well in Jammu region. It will be wrong to say that the PAGD wants the elections to be delayed. One needs to understand that the more they remain out of power, the weaker they will become,” a senior journalist, who has served in J&K, told The Sunday Guardian.
Altaf Bukari, former PDP leader, who served as the finance minister of J&K, had formed a political outfit, “Apni Party” in March 2020. Lone is the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference.
The BJP believes that it is likely to do well in 50 seats, based on the surveys and inputs that it has collected. “We are looking at 35 plus seats in Jammu and at least 15 in the valley. The people of the UT have seen the positive changes that have come in the UT, how massive investments are being done to improve the infrastructure in the UT and how government offices are now working more efficiently post August 2019 when the Central Government took over the functioning of the UT through the LG office. This gives us the confidence that we will form the government on our own,” a senior BJP leader who is not authorised to speak to the media told The Sunday Guardian.