EC defers Assembly elections in J&K, announces LS polls

CEO Shailendra Kumar flanked by senior civil and police officers addressing a press conference in Jammu on Sunday. —Excelsior/Rakesh
CEO Shailendra Kumar flanked by senior civil and police officers addressing a press conference in Jammu on Sunday. —Excelsior/Rakesh

CEC cites constraints in availability of Central forces, logistics, violence for delay
Anantnag seat to go to polls in 3 phases, 3 Special Observers appointed

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Mar 10: The Election Commission of India (ECI) today deferred Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which had to be held before May 21, citing constraints in availability of Central forces and other logistics and security of candidates in the wake of recent incidents, but announced conduct of Lok Sabha elections for six seats of the State in five phases.
For the first time, the Commission has segregated the Lok Sabha election to South Kashmir’s Anantnag Lok Sabha seat to three phases in view of security considerations. By-poll to Anantnag Parliamentary constituency vacated by PDP president and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti couldn’t be conducted for past about two years.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora announced the Commission’s decision to defer Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir at a press conference this afternoon but announced five-phase Lok Sabha elections in the State on April 11, 18, 23 and 29 and May 6 i.e. first five out of seven-phase Lok Sabha elections in the country.

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This is for the first time since 1996 when the State Assembly was re-constituted after seven years long President’s rule in view of militancy that the Assembly polls in the State are not being held on time. From 1996 onwards, the Assembly elections have been held after every six years. This time, however, the early elections were necessitated as the BJP had withdrawn support to Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP Government after sharing power for a little over three years on June 19, 2018. Lok Sabha elections in the State were also deferred in 1991 but were held in 1996 before the Assembly polls. However, 1996 Parliamentary polls were boycotted by the National Conference.
As per the election schedule announced by the Commission, Jammu and Baramulla Lok Sabha seats would go to polls in first phase on April 11 while Srinagar and Udhampur constituencies would have voting in second phase on April 18.
South Kashmir’s Anantnag Lok Sabha seat would go to polls in three phases on April 23, 29 and May 6 in third, fourth and fifth phases respectively. Anantnag district will have polling in third phase, Kulgam district in fourth phase and Shopian and Pulwama districts in fifth phase.
Ladakh Lok Sabha seat would have voting in fifth phase on May 6.
This is for the first time that a Lok Sabha constituency would go to votes in three phases, the Election Commission sources confirmed but said it was necessitated in view of extreme disturbed conditions in South Kashmir. They pointed out that the Commission couldn’t hold by-poll to Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in May 2017 as it was deferred following large scale violence in Srinagar Lok Sabha seat by-poll in April 2017. Since then the election couldn’t be held to Anantnag seat, which, in fact, was vacant since July 2016 when Mehbooba resigned from the seat after being elected as MLA from Anantnag Assembly seat.
Sources said the decision to split elections to one Parliamentary constituency in three phases was permissible and well within the legal provisions.
Arora said the Election Commission conducted several rounds of talks with State administration in Jammu and Kashmir and Union Ministry of Home Affairs including Home Secretary and his team.
“The State Government and the MHA sent detailed and specific inputs to the Commission. We also sought comments from the MHA quite early including situation in J&K and level of preparedness. The Commission held detailed meetings with all political parties, security agencies, the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police. The Commission continued assessing prevailing situation, requirement of Central forces and recent developments in the State,’’ Arora said.
“Based on all these inputs and recommendations from the State Government, the Ministry of Home Affairs, political parties and the stakeholders and constraints on account of availability of Central forces and other logistics, forces for candidates in the wake of recent past developments and keeping other challenges in minds, the Election Commission has decided to announce only Parliamentary election schedule for Jammu and Kashmir,’’ he added.
The Election Commission, he said, would regularly monitor situation and continue to take inputs to take decision on Assembly elections in the State.
Arora said the Election Commission had visited Jammu and Kashmir and held meetings with all political parties, important Central and State agencies in which various issues on requirement of security forces etc had figured. The Commission held multiple rounds of meetings and consultation with the MHA and State Government representatives, he added.
Arora announced three Special Observers to oversee smooth conduct of Parliamentary elections in the State.
They included Noor Mohammad, an IAS officer of 1977 batch, AS Gill, an IPS officer of 1972 batch and Vinod Zutshi, an IAS officer of 1982 batch.
Arora said Noor Mohammad, the former Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, had served as Secretary of National Disaster Management Authority and Deputy Election Commissioner of India and had monitored elections in Afghanistan.
Vinod Zutshi had served in the Election Commission for seven years as Deputy Election Commissioner before being elevated to the Union Secretary of Tourism.
AS Gill had retired as Director General of CRPF and remained posted as IGP CRPF in J&K from 1995 to 1997.
Assembly elections in the State were due to be held before May 21, 2019. Governor Satya Pal Malik had dissolved the State Assembly on November 21, 2018 and as per the guidelines, elections to the Assembly had to be conducted within six months of the dissolution of the House. However, under exceptional circumstances, the Election Commission had the powers to defer the Assembly elections, which will lead to extension of President’s rule in the State beyond June 20, 2019. Governor’s rule was imposed in the State on June 20, 2018 and after six months; it was converted into the President’s rule for another six months on December 20, 2018.
Addressing a press conference in Jammu, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), J&K, Shailendra Kumar said requirement of security forces for simultaneous conduct of Assembly and Lok Sabha elections was much more than the Lok Sabha polls, which have been announced for the State.
Kumar was accompanied by Divisional Commissioner Jammu, Sanjeev Verma, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Jammu Zone, MK Sinha, IGP JP Singh, Deputy Commissioner Jammu, Ramesh Kumar and SSP Jammu Tejender Singh.
Kumar said “we must respect the wisdom of the Election Commission” as simultaneous polls were not possible due to the prevailing security situation in the State.
He said the incident like February 14 Pulwama terror attack on a CRPF convoy has put the administration on alert and all necessary measures have been taken to ensure free and fair elections across the State including the border areas facing frequent ceasefire violations by Pakistan.
“We must respect the wisdom of the EC for whatever decision has been taken. It is decided, now so why and what may not be serving any purpose… Let us take it in a stride that single election has been announced and now let us conduct single election in a most free and fair manner,” Kumar said.
Asked if security atmosphere was the condition for not holding simultaneous elections, then how the EC going to conduct Lok Sabha polls, he said “having both the elections together means that you need more security for candidates.”
“We have 87 assembly constituencies and if we roughly calculate at least 900 candidates will be in the fray. All those candidates are required to be provided with security especially in the valley at both the places – whenever he goes out of his house for campaigning and at his house. This is additional requirement,” the CEO said.
Kumar said during Assembly, the campaign area remains very large and the candidate tries to reach out to his electorate, thereby putting pressure on police to provide a larger area security and area domination besides giving security to his election meetings.
“When we go for simultaneous elections, the requirement of security goes many fold so we generally understand that the security requirement remains same. It is not like that as we have 10 candidates in every Parliamentary constituency which would be around 60 candidates.
“If Assembly elections are held together we have 1000 candidates which is a large number. In Jammu division, we have certain areas where movement of militants and incidents of subversive kind of things have happened,” he said defending the EC’s decision.
“That type of incident had definitely put us on alert. We have to devise our own mechanism to avert that type of situation,” he said, adding it is heartening that within days of that incident the police was able to get the mastermind that shows about the strength and capability of “our security set up”.
On the challenge due to continuous shelling by Pakistan along the borders, he said “what is happening on the borders is not happening for the first time.”
“Definitely, the administration has prepared its plan to meet the challenge of shelling on the poling day. We have no direct control over cross-border shelling,” he said.
Kumar said the model code of conduct has came into force with the announcement of the polls and “we will ensure its implementation strictly.”
On the steps to ensure maximum participation of the people in the democratic exercise, he said “we are going aggressively for two things – one is enrolment of new voters which is very encouraging this time and secondly the EC can only appeal to the voters to come out and vote. As per election law it is not mandatory for every voter to vote.”
Kumar said the election commission is going to launch an APP called ‘C-vigil’ and it will go online when the first election notification would be issued eight days later.
“Any citizen can upload information about violation of model code of conduct on this APP which will directly land in the EC server, CEO server and district election office server. It is a very big step,” the CEO said.
He said District Election Officers and Senior Superintendent of Police have been directed to keep a strict watch in communally sensitive areas.
On whether separatism being fanned by some political parties will also fall under the purview of Model Code of Conduct, Kumar said: “Let that kind of situation comes. We will examine and then answer. What has happened in the past can’t be answered now’’.
He said the Election Commission would launch aggressive campaign for good voter turnout but it can only appeal to the people to vote as voting is not mandatory under the law.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission of India has issued an advisory to political parties asking them not to use photographs of any Defence personnel in their advertisements for the upcoming elections.
In a communication to heads of all recognized National and State Political Parties, the ECI stated that the Ministry of Defence has brought to the notes of the commission that the photographs of the Defence personnel are being used by the political parties in advertisements as part of their election propaganda and asked them to refrain from such acts.
The ECI observed that armed forces of a nation are the guardians of its frontiers, security and the political system and are apolitical and neutral stakeholders in a modern democracy. “It is therefore necessary that the political parties and leaders exercise great caution while making any reference to the Armed Forces in their political campaigns,” the communication reads.
The Commission is of the view that photographs of Chief of Army Staff or any other Defence personnel and photographs of functions of Defence Forces should not be associated with or used in any manner in advertisement/propaganda/campaigning or in any other manner in connection with elections by political parties and candidates.
The Commission called upon all the political parties to advise their candidates/leaders to desist from displaying photographs of Defence personnel or photographs of functions involving Defence personnel in advertisement, or otherwise as part of their election propaganda/campaigning.