J&K: Political party representatives meet ECI, seek Assembly polls along with LS elections

The ECI team led by Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar was in J&K for 2 days

INDIA-KASHMIR-POLITICS-MODI Representation. An Indian security personnel stands guard in Srinagar

The regional parties have urged the Election Commission of India (ECI) to hold assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir alongside the Lok Sabha polls due in April-May.

The representatives of political parties made a joint pitch for simultaneous polls in a meeting with the ECI team led by Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, which arrived in Jammu and Kashmir on March 11 for two days.

The representatives from various political parties expressed their concerns regarding the delay in holding the polls in the Union Territory since the collapse of the PDP-BJP government in June 2018. The Supreme Court, in its verdict on Article 370, directed the ECI to hold assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir latest by September 2024. 

Nasir Aslam Wani of the National Conference articulated the long-standing demand for conducting assembly elections concurrently with the Lok Sabha polls. He emphasised the need for democratic participation, highlighting the decade-long hiatus in electing the government.

He questioned the rationale behind delaying the electoral process, especially in the context of Prime Minister Modi's push for 'one country, one election,' urging equitable treatment for Jammu and Kashmir.

Echoing similar sentiments, another NC leader underscored the urgency of holding assembly elections before the commencement of the Amarnath Yatra, citing security concerns and the imperative of safeguarding democratic rights.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) outlined their respective stances on electoral reforms. RS Pathania of the BJP urged the need to enhance voter turnout in Lok Sabha elections and proposed measures to facilitate smoother voting processes.

The BJP leader demanded the establishment of polling booths in regions with Kashmiri Pandit populations to bolster their electoral participation. "BJP is in favor of holding assembly elections in the state soon. If Lok Sabha and Assembly elections are held simultaneously, the BJP will support it," he said.

PDP representative Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura stressed the importance of conducive security conditions for holding assembly elections, expressing hope for their expeditious conduct. "If the security situation with the Lok Sabha is good, then assembly elections should be held,’’ he said “We only hope that assembly elections should be held as soon as possible.”

Following the deliberations with political stakeholders, the ECI officials are scheduled to conduct comprehensive reviews of the election preparations in collaboration with local authorities. This includes consultations with District Election Officers and Superintendents of Police to assess logistical requirements and security arrangements.

The Jammu and Kashmir police have already said they are ready to ensure security for the election.

Jammu and Kashmir have only witnessed District Development Council (DDC) polls after the abrogation of Article 370. The DDC polls were held in October 2022, since then no other elections have been held in the UT.

In the absence of an elected government in the erstwhile state for more than five years, Panchayats-elected local bodies were the only democratic institutions in the region. 

However, the curtain fell on the last vestige of elected representatives in Jammu and Kashmir as the term of over 28,000 Panchayat members ended on January 9, 2024, with no fresh elections in sight. The UT administration has empowered deputy commissioners as administrators with the powers of grassroots elected bodies until fresh elections are held.

Opinions are divided on whether holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls will benefit the regional parties. One view is that such a situation will benefit the BJP, the main rival of the regional parties and the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir, as the local parties. The other is that the regional parties will have an edge if both elections are held together.

Those who believe the BJP will have an advantage think that the party  will benefit from the favourable atmosphere it enjoys across the country over the INDIA alliance. That will have a positive impact on its supporters in the Jammu region, its base. They believe the regional parties will struggle in such a situation, and many neutral voters will be swayed toward the BJP with a promise of a Hindu Chief minister in Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP lacks a major crowd-puller and still depends on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to mobilise the voters. The BJP will ride Modi’s popularity blurring the lines between Parliament and assembly polls.  

The second view is that, in such a scenario, the BJP will find it hard to manage two major elections, and there will be gaps at the grassroots that the regional parties will exploit. The regional parties and the Congress will be forced to coordinate and allow room for each other, which is missing presently due to the dispute over five Lok Sabha seats.

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