READY TO POLL & ROLL?

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A voter coming out after casting his vote from a polling booth of Budgam, Srinagar in Jammu & Kashmir during the 4th Phase of General Election-2009 on May 07, 2009.

Ready to poll & roll?

by Bashir Assad 

The Election Commission of India is scheduled to visit Jammu &Kashmir next week to
study and hopefully tick-mark the ground situation about holding Assembly elections here later this year.

THERE are indications that, finally, the Election Commission of India may seriously be looking at the possibility of holding elections in Jammu & Kashmir
later this year! It’s apparent that the Commission is not in favour of suspension of the democratic process in any part of the country for too long for whatsoever reasons.

Cases of postponing polls
Usually, elections are delayed or postponed under extraordinary circumstances. Like, in 1991, the Election Commission had postponed the ongoing Parliamentary elections for three weeks following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination during his campaign in
Tamil Nadu. Then, in March 2020, elections to 18 Rajya Sabha seats were postponed by the EC due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Article 172 (1) states that in case of a state of
emergency, an election can be postponed for one year at a time, in addition to a period of six months after the emergency is lifted. However, there is no clear legal provision that specifies the circumstances under which elections can be deferred in non-emergency situations. However, law and order situations, natural calamities or any other compelling circumstances which are beyond the control of Election Commission of India, can be
the ground for extension. Under Article 324, the EC usually informs the government of its inability to hold elections on time. The government, in exercise of Constitutional and legal powers, can decide the future course to impose President’s rule.

Between polls & President’s rule

The President’s rule was imposed in Jammu & Kashmir on June 20, 2018 and the State Assembly was kept in suspended animation after the State plunged into a political crisis when the Mehbooba Mufti led coalition government was reduced to a minority following the withdrawal of support by the BJP. The President’s rule was initially imposed for six months and then extended twice for six months each before the Parliament revoked the special status of Jammu & Kashmir and bifurcated the State into two union territories of Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh. Then, the President’s rule was immediately revoked following the bifurcation of the State into two Union Territories on December 6, 2021 after the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution. Since the President’s rule is not applicable to union territories, Jammu & Kashmir came under direct rule of the Home Ministry of India through the designate Lieutenant Governor. So, since October2020, Jammu & Kashmir continues to be governed by the Centre through the LG.

The democratic struggle
The last Assembly Elections in Jammu & Kashmir were held from November 25 to December 20, 2014 in five phases. Notwithstanding the political upheavals Jammu &Kashmir witnessed since 2018, the six-year term of the Assembly was expiring on January 19, 2020. As the State first plunged into a political crisis following the breakup between the PDP and BJP in 2018, the unprecedented decision by the Parliament to scrap Article 370 on August 5, 2019 resulted in suspension of political activities for a very long period. There was a tough law and order situation for a few months and subsequently, the situation eased. As an experiment, the elections to the District Development Boards were held for the first time, starting December 2020. The participation in these elections was quite encouraging for the government. Given the overall security scenario and the level of militancy-related incidents, particularly in the domain of targeted civilian killings and their impact on the ground situation, the Election Commission was not willing to hold elections in Jammu & Kashmir unless there was improvement and a conducive atmosphere was achieved for holding elections. But there was something more than what met the eye. The government actually wanted that the consolidation, post abrogation, be smooth. So the LG administration put in all the efforts to create a situation conducive for a democratic process. Recently, LG Manoj Sinha, in an exclusive interview with Doordarshan, said, that he was ready to hold elections in Jammu & Kashmir as and when the Election Commission took a call on the issue. Earlier, a delegation of 17 opposition parties presented a memorandum of the Election Commission of India in New Delhi, urging to hold the elections in Jammu & Kashmir as soon as possible. The Election Commission candidly admitted that the vacuum persisting in J&K for the last three-four years needed to be filled by holding elections to the its assembly. So, it is in this backdrop that the Election Commission of India (ECI) is visiting Jammu & Kashmir, most likely around April 15, to assist the situation and take a call on holding the elections here. Needless to say, that the political parties genuinely inclined towards the good of Kashmir are hoping for these elections at the earliest. However, there are certain indications suggesting that if at all the Election Commission of India decides to hold elections during the current year, it would only be after the culmination of the annual Shri Amarnath Yatra in mid August.

Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that the ECI finally takes a call on holding the much-awaited elections. Kashmir Central tried to reach the National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah, Apni Party President Syed Altaf Bukhari and Chairman of People’s Conference Sajad Gani Lone to know about their views on the visit of the ECI to Jammu & Kashmir. We got through only Dr Abdullah who was, however, reluctant to comment on the
issue. “I don’t know when the ECI is visiting Kashmir and when they will decide to hold elections,” he said and dropped the call. Well, here’s hoping that we march towards a
peaceful & a safe election and the J&K Assembly finds its feet yet again.

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