According to provisions of the Representation of the Peoples Act, anyone living ordinarily in Jammu and Kashmir can now apply to become a voter in the Union Territory (UT), as informed by Chief Electoral Officer Hirdesh Kumar on Wednesday. So far, political parties in the region have opposed the move.
“After the abrogation of Article 370, many people who were not enlisted as voters in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir are now eligible to vote and in addition, anyone who is living ordinarily can also avail the opportunity to get enlisted as a voter in Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with the provisions of Representation of the Peoples Act,” said Kumar.
According to the officer, a voter does not need a Jammu and Kashmir domicile certificate to register, and that anyone residing in the region, be it an employee, student, labourer, or any other outsider, can enlist their name for inclusion in the voters’ list.
Following this, government officials will review the documents and make a decision depending on how satisfied they are with the claim. According to him, like in the past, residents of Jammu and Kashmir who serve in the armed forces and paramilitary forces and are posted outside of the Union Territory can get themselves registered as service voters, and can register their choice by postal ballot when elections take place.
“Likewise, those from different parts of the country who are posted here have the option of enlisting as voters if they are posted in a peace station. Jammu is a peace station and anyone from outside posted in armed forces in the city can avail of the option,” he said.
It is estimated that Jammu and Kashmir hosts a large number of security personnel and migrant workers. A majority of the workforce in several service sectors such as the hotel industry and manufacturing, comes from outside Jammu and Kashmir. In addition to highly-skilled labour, many of the bigger projects are also staffed by people outside Kashmir Valley.
Approximately 25 lakh new voters are anticipated to be registered in the Union Territory, as the Special Summary Revision of Electoral Rolls is being conducted in the region for the first time since Article 370 was repealed in 2019. The electoral officer said that the number of assembly seats in J&K grew to 90 after the Delimitation Commission submitted its findings on May 5, and the Union Law Ministry put the report into effect on May 20.
“All the 90 constituencies have witnessed some sort of change… We are presently undertaking mapping of old constituencies with new constituencies and it will be followed by the Special Summary Revision (SSR),” said Kumar, expressing satisfaction over the ongoing pre-SSR activities.
In addition, Kumar said that all the Booth Level Officers, Electoral Registration Officers, Assistant Electoral Registration Officers and District Election Officers have been sensitised to ensure that the final list will be “error-free”, and will also cover all the eligible voters.
According to Kumar, 600 new polling places have been added in Jammu & Kashmir, bringing the total number to 11,370. He said that there is already a unique provision for Kashmiri migrants living outside the Valley that enables them to exercise their right to vote.
“They (Kashmiri Pandit migrants) are registered as voters in their home constituencies. Special camps are being organised for them at different places including Delhi, Jammu and Udhampur for registration of new voters and all of them will be given voter ID cards,” he said.
He refuted the idea that Rohingya Muslims who have sought refuge in Jammu and other parts of the state might register to vote. “We have officers in place and they know their duty.” He added that it is a “challenging task” to finish the Special Summary Revision of the electoral records by November 25.
Kumar said that the extensive effort to finish the procedure on time is ongoing in order to give a final list that is “error-free”, and includes all eligible voters along with those who reach the age of 18 by October 1, 2022, or earlier. The Election Commission recently announced a revised schedule, which states that an integrated draught electoral roll will be published on September 15, and that the period for filing claims and objections will run from September 15 to October 25. The Election Commission will decide on claims and objections on November 10.
Prior to the release of final electoral rolls on November 25, the date for checking the health criteria, receiving the Commission’s approval for final publishing, updating the database, and printing of supplements was set for November 19. “The Special Summary Revision of electoral rolls is taking place for the first time after January 1, 2019, and so we are expecting massive changes in the voter list given the fact that a large number of youngsters have attained the age of 18 or 18 plus over the past three years,’’ said Kumar.
The officer said that the Election Commission intends to conduct door-to-door canvassing and set up special camps in educational facilities to raise awareness among eligible voters. A provision has been established in the updated registration forms for the connection of Aadhaar numbers with electoral roll data, with the goal of establishing voter identity and authenticating electoral register entries. He said that new voter identity cards with enhanced security features would be issued by the ECI.
At the press conference where Kumar announced the revisions, State Nodal Officer Sveep Akhtar Hussain Qazi, Joint Director Information Jammu Sapna Kotwal, and Additional Secretary Sandish Kumar Gupta were also present.
A sharp reaction has been seen against the decision to permit outsiders to vote in the UT, from local political parties in Jammu and Kashmir.
“This is dangerous. I don’t know what they want to achieve. This is much more than 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,” said J&K Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Lone.
According to former J&K chief minister and National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah, the BJP is trying to import temporary voters as it is anxious to win seats. “Is the BJP so insecure about support from genuine voters of Jammu and Kashmir that it needs to import temporary voters to win seats? None of these things will help the BJP when the people of Jammu and Kashmir are given a chance to exercise their franchise,” he said.
People from outside Jammu and Kashmir being allowed to vote in Kashmir Valley, according to the People’s Democratic Party, is an extension of the “tactical rigging process” that started with the unconstitutional and illegal delimitation process of the erstwhile state. “The sole aim of the Government of India is the complete disempowerment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” said PDP chief spokesman Syed Suhail Bukhari.
Sunil Dimple, president of the Jammu-based Mission Statehood Jammu Kashmir (MSJK) declared that the ECI’s choices “on the direction of BJP is not acceptable”. “This is a big conspiracy to weaken our claim of restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s Statehood, Permanent Residence Certificate, special status, and Article 370. This will destroy our history, identity, culture and demography of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Dimple.