At BJP’s behest non-local voters being added to electoral roll : J&K Parties

At BJP’s behest non-local voters being added to J&K’s electoral roll: Regional Parties

National Conference (NC) lawmaker Hasnain Masoodi on Monday alleged that 2.5 million non-local voters were being added to the Jammu & Kashmir electoral roll at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s and that they would reach out to the people of the region to prevent it.

Masoodi, the convenor of a 17-member panel of political parties formed to oppose the inclusion, said the process of issuing certificates of residence to non-locals for their inclusion in the roll was on even as Jammu deputy magistrate Avny Lavasa withdrew an order in this regard after an uproar last week.

He said if the notification has been withdrawn, it should be made public. “…we want to know new guidelines to the revenue officials,” he said after the panel’s first meeting in Jammu.

Lavasa ordered revenue officials in the Jammu district to grant residence certificates to those living there for over a year to facilitate their inclusion in the roll, prompting former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to call it a blow to the region’s culture, identity, employment, and business. In a tweet, Mufti said the directive issued late on Tuesday last makes it clear that the “colonial settler project” has been initiated in Jammu.

Lavasa’s directive was withdrawn later. The order came months after a proposed addition of 2.5 million names to the roll in Jammu & Kashmir triggered a political row with local parties saying it was a ploy to alter the region’s demographics. The government dismissed the allegations that “outsiders” will influence electoral outcomes.

On August 17, chief electoral officer Hirdesh Kumar Singh told reporters that the ongoing special summary revision of the roll as part of preparations for the region’s first assembly election in eight years was likely to add around 2.5 million voters. He said the jump was because the exercise was being held after three years and will allow the inclusion of “ordinary residents” and not just permanent residents in the roll.

The region’s special status, which was scrapped in 2019, did not allow this. On September 6, Singh convened an all-party meeting to allay fears.

The panel was formed to chalk out a strategy against the inclusion of non-locals in the roll and has members from parties including the Congress, Shiv Sena, Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan Party, and Dogra Sadar Sabha.

The final electoral roll is expected to be published on November 25. Any person attaining the age of 18 on or before October 1, who is otherwise qualified to be enrolled as an elector, can apply for registration during this special summary revision.

Masoodi said Lavasa did not withdraw the directive in writing. “…what are the new guidelines, the government needs to come clean on it,” said Masoodi.

He said Singh’s announcement about the proposed inclusion of 2.5 million non-local voters earlier caused grave concern among the people. “[Lavasa] issued a notification containing guidelines for issuing certificates of residence to those living for over a year for enrolling them as voters. It caused outrage and substantiated the fears. The order then is withdrawn verbally. It gave open-ended power to revenue officials to issue the certificates of residence to non-locals.”

Masoodi said it would have been better to issue a written order to roll it back. “It was not done. Further, there was no clarity on the ordinary residents.” He said political parties from Jammu & Kashmir have come together to ensure non-locals do not get voting rights.

“We have realised that both the regions [Jammu and Kashmir Valley] were pitted against each other and deliberately misconceptions were engineered between the two regions…” He said only the permanent state subjects had the right to vote in Jammu & Kashmir as per the region’s semi-autonomous status under Constitution’s Article 370.

“Though we have challenged the revocation of Article 370 and the matter is sub-judice in the apex court, we decided unanimously to reach out to the people and tell them about the perils of [voting rights to non-locals].” He said they will not allow non-local voters. “It would mean disempowering and disenfranchising natives…,” he said.

“We will approach the people’s court as a single entity and not separately.”

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