The fear of enrolling “non-local” voters in Jammu and Kashmir appears to have been unfounded as the revision of electoral rolls in the region has added less than one-third of the projected new voters.
Sources have told NDTV that “around 7 lakh” new voters have been added to electoral list, which is an increase of 10 per cent in the total number. The exercise, carried out after a gap of more than three years, will be formally complete on Friday.
In August, Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Electoral Officer had said that 20-25 lakh new voters would be added during the Special Revision, and that non-locals ordinarily living in the UT would be enrolled. That statement triggered a major controversy and backlash from regional parties who alleged that the central government of the BJP was trying to change poll outcome with inclusion of “imported” voters.
The region had around 76 lakh registered voters before the last Lok Saba elections in May 2019. That number has now risen to 83 lakh, it is learnt. “There may be a small change in the number once the final list is published,” said an official.
The completion of the exercise also paves the way for holding assembly elections. The former state is without an elected government for the last more than four years. The last assembly polls were held in 2014.
It became a Union Territory — Ladakh was carved out as a separate UT — as it was stripped of its statehood and special status in August 2019.
A delimitation exercise to redraw 90 assembly constituencies has been controversial as well. Glaring discrepancies are alleged in allotting seats as population was not made the sole criterion.
The Opposition has alleged gerrymandering to favour the BJP and an attempt to turn Muslims, the UT’s demographic majority, into a political minority in many areas.
Last month, Jammu’s district magistrate was forced to withdraw a controversial order in which she had asked officials to register non-locals as voters even if they had no documentary proof.
The BJP now says the “fairness” in the revision of electoral rolls is “a slap in the face of the Opposition”. “People were misled that 25 lakh voters from outside will be enrolled. Only 6-7 Lakh voters have been added and they are genuine voters,” said Kavinder Gupta, a senior BJP leader of the region.
Opposition party National Conference has said it will wait for the publication of the rolls as election officials have been making contradictory statements. “There has been lot of apprehension with regard to electoral rolls,” said Tanvir Sadiq, the party’s chief spokesperson, “Unfortunately, the position of election office has been that of a seesaw. Recently, one of the deputy commissioners issued an order which was only revoked after political parties protested against it.”
Officials say around 13,000 employees were involved in the revision, and an extensive, door-to-door campaign was carried out to compete the process in three months.
Before the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status, only permanent residents were eligible to vote. All those laws defining permanent residents and barring outsiders from owning property and voting rights in Jammu and Kashmir have been done away with in August 2019 when Article 370 was hollowed out.
Fears of land and voting rights to non-locals are also seen as a reason behind frequent targeted attacks by terrorists on migrant workers in Kashmir.
While most of the migrant workers have already moved out before the onset of winter in the Valley, those who stay back allege that police have been asking them to leave. A senior police officer denied these allegations: “Police are only advising these workers not to live in interior areas. They should instead stay in more secure areas.”
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