The decision to allow voting rights to any Indian citizen living temporarily in Kashmir led to anger and fear amongst political parties and locals in the Valley as it is being seen as yet another attempt by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to change the demography of the Muslim-dominated region.
The Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir, Hirdesh Kumar last week announced that any Indian citizen living in Jammu and Kashmir can now also get enlisted as a voter in the Union Territory (UT).
The order came in accordance with the provisions of Representation of the Peoples Act.
“After the abrogation of Article 370, many people who were not enlisted as voters in the erstwhile State of J&K are now eligible to vote and in addition, anyone who is living ordinarily can also avail the opportunity to get enlisted as a voter in J&K in accordance with the provisions of Representation of the Peoples Act,” he said.
As per Kumar, the move is expected to add around 25 lakh new voters on top of the already existing 76 lakh voters, according to the last voter list.
The new voters would include Indians temporarily residing in the region, mainly Indian military personnel, government, and private sector employees, and migrant workers. Later the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) Government of Jammu and Kashmir issued a revision of the electoral rolls in the region.
The statement read that the media reports about more than 25 lakh additions in the electoral rolls is a “misrepresentation of facts which is being spread by vested interests.”
“This revision of the electoral poll will cover existing residents of the UT of J&K and increase in numbers will be of the voters who have attained the age of 18 years as on 1,10,2022 or earlier,” it further read.
The revision of the electoral rolls read that Kashmiri migrants will be given the option of voting at their place of enrollment or through postal ballot or through specially set up polling stations at Udhampur, Jammu, Delhi, etc.
Kashmiri politicians condemned the new election rules. Mehbooba Mufti, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief responded to the move and said, “GOIs decision to defer polls in J&K preceded by egregious gerrymandering tilting the balance in BJPs favour and now allowing non-locals to vote is obviously to influence election rules.”
“The real aim is to continue ruling J&K with an iron fist to disempower locals,” she wrote on Twitter.
On Friday, PDP took out a protest march from the party’s head office near Sher-e-Kashmir park led by party’s chief spokesperson Suhail Bukhari, against the inclusion of non-local voters in the electoral rolls.
Mufti further alleged that J&K has become a laboratory for the BJP which is in power at the Centre.
“Jammu and Kashmir has become a laboratory for the Bharatiya Janata Party. They conduct experiments here and then implement it in other places. All this is being done in the garb of the so-called integration of J&K with India,” she said.
Omar Abdullah, another former Chief Minister of J&K accused the BJP of importing voters to win seats.
“Is the BJP so insecure about support from genuine voters of (Jammu and Kashmir) that it needs to import temporary voters to win seats? None of these things will help the BJP when the people of J&K are given a chance to exercise their franchise,” he tweeted.
J&K People’s Conference Chairman, Sajad Gani Lone said that the announcement created a set of apprehensions amongst the people of J&K and that the government of India must come out with unvarnished truth to allay their fears.
“The statement of ECI officials has heightened the fears of demographic intervention and demographic change. We know the set of laws that prevail across the country but what matters here is not the application of the law but the intentions of those implementing the law, he said in a statement.
“This is nothing short of a threat of disempowering wherever little vestigial empowerment that remains,” he further said.
Keeping Kashmiris in check
The announcement has further led to a wave of Kashmiris mocking the latest move of the government as a way of the vent.
“If you are on a honeymoon in Kashmir, you can choose both, shikara-walla for a ride and a chief minister for Kashmir,” Peerzada Ashiq, a Kashmiri journalist tweeted.
“The way the government first issued a statement and later a clarification points to deliberately causing confusion and stoking fears to keep Kashmiris under check,” said another Kashmiri journalist, who requested anonymity.
The journalist said that allowing non-locals to vote is not about integration but it stems from the idea that Kashmiris need to be controlled.
“Why doesn’t the government of India also allow non-locals to vote in Ladakh’s Hill council elections or settle down and vote in northeastern states?” they questioned.
“The only reason is Kashmiris are Muslims, and suppression of Muslims is vital to BJP’s electoral success.”
The decision comes across as a plan to make permanent demographic changes in J&K, said a resident from south Kashmir who did not wish to be named.
“It is also reiteration and validation of the suspicion people of jammu and kashmir had about abrogation of article 370, that it had nothing to do with development of the place as was being projected by the government rather it was a stepping stone for making changes that was the dream of ideological godfathers of BJP- the RSS,” he said.
“To include 25 lakh new voters in the electoral process in this way is nothing but demographic change on a massive scale, almost genocidal,” he said. “It clearly demands and mandates intervention by the UN.”