The story so far: On August 17, the J&K Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Hirdesh Kumar, announced that anyone “who is living ordinarily in J&K” can avail the opportunity to get enlisted as a voter in the Union Territory in accordance with the provisions of the Representation of the People Act. He said that many people who were not enlisted as voters in the erstwhile State of J&K are now eligible to vote after the reading down of Article 370 on August 5, 2019. The Election Commission of India (ECI) was expecting an addition of 20-25 lakh new voters in the final list in J&K, he added.
Who else is eligible to vote?
Mr. Kumar suggested that armed forces posted in J&K could also register as voters and could possibly participate in the first ever Assembly polls in the youngest Union Territory (UT) of the country. The CEO said the existing electoral roll is being mapped into the newly delimited Assembly constituencies as per the Delimitation Commission’s final order made applicable by the Union Law Ministry with effect from May 20, 2022.
Why are electoral rolls being revised?
The ECI is working on fresh electoral rolls in J&K after the J&K Delimitation Commission earlier this year carved out seven new Assembly constituencies in the UT, six going to Jammu division and one to Kashmir, under the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act adopted in 2019. Jammu now has 43 seats against 47 in Kashmir. The Delimitation Commission has re-drawn many constituencies and fresh electoral rolls are essential to prepare the ground for any announcement of elections in J&K, where the last Assembly elections took place in 2014. In a latest move, the ECI has decided that it will also include any person who has attained the age of 18 years on or before October 1, 2022 in the fresh electoral rolls. The final electoral roll would be published on November 25.
What did the CEO announce?
Mr. Kumar said there is no need for a person to have a domicile certificate of J&K to become a voter. “An employee, a student, a labourer or anyone from outside who is living ordinarily in J&K can enlist his or her name in the voting list,” Mr. Kumar said. He said armed forces from different parts of the country “have the option that if they are posted in a peace station they can enlist themselves as voters.” Mr. Kumar said “Jammu is a peace station and anyone from outside posted in the armed forces in the city can avail the option to enlist as a voter.” He observed that around 25 lakh new voters are expected to be enrolled in J&K, which has 76 lakh voters on the list. He said the projected 18-plus population of J&K was around 98 lakh. After the abrogation of special provisions of Article 370, the Representation of the People Act 1950 and 1951 is applicable in J&K, officials said, which allows ordinarily residing persons to get registered in the electoral rolls of J&K, “provided he or she gets their name deleted from the electoral roll of his or her native constituency.”
How were the J&K electoral rolls revised prior to 2019?
Prior to August 5, 2019 when J&K had special constitutional powers, the Assembly electoral rolls in the State were drawn up according to the Jammu & Kashmir Representation of the People Act 1957, wherein only permanent residents of J&K were eligible to get registered in the Assembly rolls. To get voting rights, Permanent Resident Certificate and domicile certificates had to be shown. Several lakh residents from west Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, who had migrated to J&K and were living there for many decades, had no voting rights in Assembly elections till August 5, 2019 but were able to vote in the parliamentary elections.
Why has the ECI announcement caused a furore?
All political parties in J&K, except the BJP, have reacted sharply to the ECI announcement. J&K's main regional parties, including the National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, CPI(M) and Peoples Conference, have expressed concerns that the move will open the floodgates and turn locals into an electoral minority. Former Chief Minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti expressed concern that there was a plan to bring 25 lakh non-locals and make them eligible to cast their votes in the next J&K elections. “This is the last nail in the coffin of electoral democracy,” Ms. Mufti said. Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Lone compared the move with the 1987 rigged elections in J&K, which resulted in mass militancy in Kashmir in the 1990s. “Please remember 1987. We are yet to come out of that. Don’t re-play 1987. It will be disastrous,” Mr. Lone warned.