kashmiri pandits: Election Commission’s first meet on J&K elections indicates narrow window for polls

New Delhi: The Election Commission held its first meeting on conducting assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir last week. Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar is learnt to have chaired a meeting with J&K chief electoral officer Hirdesh Kumar and senior officials of Nirvachan Sadan on May 23.

According to initial assessments, the overall poll preparations should be completed by early October, ET has learnt. It will leave a window for wrapping up the poll process by the first week of December. However, the window will be narrow, given the onset of winter and snow. J&K has been without an elected government since the BJP withdrew from the coalition government with PDP in June 2018.

The first EC meeting after delimitation was notified discussed its implications for the electoral process and steps required for holding polls. The CEO is learnt to have made a presentation, detailing steps needed following the creation of 90 assembly constituencies through the delimitation order.

Preliminary assessments show that polling station rationalisation, to map how polling stations will cover the new constituencies, will take about three months. EC will also have to appoint officers for each of the 90 constituencies. The more challenging component, however, will be revision of electoral rolls. The last special summary revision of the J&K’s electoral rolls was conducted ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

With 90 constituencies now in place, with significantly redrawn areas and considerable addition of voters expected in the last three years, the roll revision is likely to be exhaustive. Typically, electoral roll revision takes up to two months. The final election schedule will, however, require more than readying the logistics. Law and order concerns and political reaction will be key determinants.

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There have been a round of recent killings of Kashmiri Pandits in J&K, which will keep security agencies on alert. The Amarnath yatra will give an indication of the ground situation and the paramilitary requirements for holding polls. Infiltration levels will also be factored in during consultations between the EC and home ministry.

Security concerns apart, there are serious political considerations that the Centre has to weigh when deciding the J&K poll calendar as several political parties have protested the setting up of the delimitation commission when the Supreme Court was yet to hear pleas challenging the watering down of Article 370. Most political parties, except BJP, have also decried the delimitation panel report which increased the seats from 37 to 43 in Jammu but by only one, to 47, in Kashmir.

Also, if the Centre accepts the delimitation commission’s recommendations for reservation of at least two seats for Kashmiri Pandits, an amendment may have to be made to the J&K Reorganisation Act in the ensuing Parliament session.

J&K has been under President’s Rule since December 2018. The last assembly elections in the erstwhile state were held in five phases from November 25 in 2014. While elections to vacant panchayat seats and district development councils were held in the winter of 2020, assembly elections have been mostly scheduled between March and early December.

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