Giving outsiders voting right will obliterate identity of people of Jammu and Kashmir, say region's parties

"If outsiders become eligible to vote in Jammu and Kashmir, Assembly won't be ours but that of outsiders," NC chief Farooq Abdullah said after chairing an all-party meeting held to discuss the issue

Mufti Mehbooba and MY Tarigami were among those who attended an all-party meeting convened by Farooq Abdullah
Mufti Mehbooba and MY Tarigami were among those who attended an all-party meeting convened by Farooq Abdullah

Gulzar Bhat

The announcement by the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) last week that even non-natives would get the right to vote in polls held in the erstwhile state, downgraded by the Modi govt into a Union Territory in 2019, has precipitated a huge political storm that shows no signs of abating.

On Monday, the region was abuzz with political parties holding meetings and issuing statements.

An all-party meeting convened by former Jammu and Kashmir CM and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah at his Gupkar Road residence was attended by representatives of almost all major parties in the region including PDP, Congress, CPI, CPI (M), JKANC and Shiv Sena. The BJP had not been invited.

Addressing the media after an hour-long meeting, Farooq Abdullah said that all the parties which attended the meeting were against the government's proposed move of granting the right to vote to all those who 'ordinarily live' in Jammu and Kashmir.

"The move will obliterate the identity of the people Jammu and Kashmir," he said.

He expressed apprehensions that such a move will also render non-locals vulnerable to attacks by militants.

"This government has failed to give protection to the local political leaders; how will it protect non-locals," he said.

Abdullah said that despite their political differences, the political parties had come together as this proposal, if put into effect, would amount to an assault on the legitimate rights of the people of the region.

"We all know that if the government makes outsiders eligible to vote here, the Assembly won't be ours but that of outsiders," he said.

Abdullah said a meeting of all national political would be convened in September where the issue would be discussed further.

In related developments, Communist Party of India (CPI) leaders Annie Raja and Syed Aziz Pasha said at a meeting held in Srinagar that being aware of the unlikelihood of a favourable outcome for it whenever polls are held in J&K, the BJP was making all-out efforts to change the region's electoral demography.

Jammu and Kashmir People's Conference leader Sajad Lone, meanwhile, said that his party's members would go on a hunger strike if the government changed the electoral demography of Jammu and Kashmir.

Lone, incidentally, did not attend the all-party meeting called by Farooq Abdullah. Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP) leader Altaf Bukhari also steered clear of the meeting.

Last week, during a press conference, Hirdesh Kumar Singh, J&K Chief Electoral Officer, had said that 25 lakh new voters who 'ordinarily live in the region' would be added to the electoral rolls.

The Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) later came up with a clarification, terming the reports about those 'who live ordinarily in Jammu and Kashmir' being given voting rights as a misrepresentation of facts.

"This revision of electoral rolls will cover existing residents of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the increase in numbers will be of voters who have attained the age of 18 years as of October 1, 2022, or earlier," it said.

However, the government did not come clear on the issue.

Sources said that regional political leaders had requested the J&K Lieutenant Governor to call an all-party meeting to clear the confusion. "The LG did not call the meeting. Something is cooking inside the BJP," they said.

The BJP, on its part, also deployed its local leaders to try and defend the proposed move. President of its J&K unit Ravindra Raina told reporters that NC, PDP and other political parties were misleading the people and spreading propaganda.

Ashok Koul, general secretary (organisation) of BJP's Jammu and Kashmir unit, claimed that the summary revision of voters list would not affect the electoral demography of the region.

Defending the CEO's statement , Koul told reporters in Srinagar that whatever the CEO had said "was law".

"Why can't a person putting up in J&K have voting rights if the leaders from the region can contest elections anywhere in the country," he said.

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Published: 22 Aug 2022, 6:24 PM