The much-awaited assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir – expected to be held by the end of this year – may face a logjam, officials in the Union home ministry indicated after a minister told parliament that the revision of electoral rolls has to be finished first. The reasoning is that the revision of rolls will inevitably be followed by political wrangling and a resolution cannot be expected before the winter sets in. Given the freezing “Chillai Kalan” – 40 days of intense cold – in Kashmir, the elections cannot be held before the thaw next year, officials said.
On Sunday, Union minister Rajnath Singh had given the first indication of a timeline for assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir since it was made a Union Territory in August 2019. There is a “strong possibility” of starting the election process “by this year-end”, Mr Singh had said.
Earlier today, junior home minister Nityanand Rai told the Rajya Sabha: “The government constituted a Delimitation Commission, which notified Orders on March 14, 2022 and May 5, 2022, on delimitation of Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir. Thereafter, the Election Commission has initiated revision of electoral rolls”.
The decision to schedule elections is the prerogative of Election Commission, he added.
The Election Commission has given time till October 31 for the publication of electoral rolls. But after rolls are published, “political parties will naturally contest the claims, so it will further take time and then one be pushed into the winter months,” said an official from the home ministry.
On the law and order front, the recent targeted killings of civilians and ISIS claiming responsibility, is a fresh challenge, officials said.
The security situation was the key roadblock to assembly elections in 2019.
After the J&K administration flagged their concern on this, the Election Commission refused to club the assembly polls with the general elections, crushing hopes of having an elected government in the erstwhile state that was under President’s Rule since June 2018.
This time, the question of nominating members of PoJK (Pak-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir) refugees also needs to be settled.
The Delimitation Commission has recommended nominations for PoJK (Pak-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir) refugees, but has not mentioned any number.
The Commission has also recommended that two Kashmiri migrants – one of them a woman — can be nominated to the Legislative Assembly with voting rights.
Officials said the issue might eventually be settled in parliament in the form of a bill or an executive order in the ongoing monsoon session.
“There have been many rounds of discussions within government on this issue,” said a senior government official. “In all likelihood, three or four nominations might be given to displaced persons from PoJK on the ground that 24 constituencies have been reserved for them in the Assembly and nearly one-third population had migrated here in 1947,” he added.
Efforts, meanwhile, are being made to keep the election machinery shipshape.
The first-level checking of Electronic Voting Machines and VVPATs is set to take place later this month. “It is a workshop where in EVMs are checked and officers on the ground are made familiar with their functioning,” said a home ministry official.
The deputy commissioners of all 10 districts of Kashmir Valley and a team from the Election Commission of India will participate in the workshop.