CEC calls for inclusive, neutral elections
EC team meets top officials
Sanjeev Pargal/Fayaz Bukhari
JAMMU/SRINAGAR, Mar 4: Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora said today that holding elections in any part of India is a challenge and stressed that upcoming elections should be inclusive and neutral as he along with high-level team of the Election Commission of India (ECI) reviewed preparedness of elections and elicited opinion of both national and regional political parties on conduct of Assembly elections in the State.
Meanwhile, majority of political parties including BJP, Congress, National Conference, CPM among others called for simultaneous holding of Assembly polls with Lok Sabha elections, which are scheduled to be held in April-May while the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) favoured the Assembly elections at the earliest.
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In his opening remarks before review of election preparedness with civil and police officers on first day of two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, Arora said elections are soon going to be held to uphold principles of democracy. The Commission, he said, desired that the elections should be most inclusive with absolute neutrality by people involved in organizing them.
“Holding elections in any part of India is a challenge because of various factors such as topography, population density etc,” he added.
The Commission met representatives of all national and regional political parties followed by a meeting with civil and police officials including the Divisional Commissioner, ADGP Law & Order, the IGP Kashmir and all Deputy Commissioners and SSPs of Kashmir and Ladakh divisions at Srinagar.
BJP State president, Ravinder Raina told the Excelsior that their delegation led by Dr Ali Mohammad Mir told the Election Commission team that the BJP stood by the policy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for `One Nation One Election’. He said the BJP stressed that the Assembly elections should be held with Lok Sabha polls in the State. On security front, Raina said the Central and State Governments should make arrangements for holding peaceful elections.
PDP leader and former Minister Abdul Rehman Veeri, who led the party delegation comprising Nizam-ud-Din Bhat and Abdul Haw Khan, said the PDP presented its view point to the Commission that the Assembly elections should be held at the earliest as the Governor’s rule was no alternate to democratically elected Government.
“The PDP wants the Assembly elections to be held at the earliest,” Veeri said.
“We are ready and our party will contest both elections with people’s support. We told ECI that the prevailing alienation and the unpredictable situation can only be handled by the elected Government in the State,” PDP chief spokesperson Rafi Mir said.
National Conference delegation was led by party general secretary, Ali Mohammad Sagar and comprised Nasir Aslam Wani and Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan, all former Ministers.
Sagar said that the party urged for holding of Assembly and Lok Sabha polls together.
“We urged the ECI not to wait for anything more and instead announce dates for holding Lok Sabha and Assembly polls together so that the prevailing uncertainty and political tensions are done away with by the elected Government,” he said.
“We told ECI that at present, the situation in Kashmir was fragile and elections were the only way out to bring normalcy and elected government would work on a peace mission to safeguard the interests of people of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh respectively”, the NC general secretary said.
“We urged the Election Commission to hold Assembly elections with Lok Sabha polls,” Nasir Aslam Wani said citing that the elections have never been postponed except for Anantnag Lok Sabha seat by-poll in April 2017 and the result is before all of us that it couldn’t be held till date.
There is no ground for deferring the Assembly elections, Wani said.
The Congress delegation comprised Usmaan Majeed and Taj Mohi-ud-Din, both former Ministers and Farooq Andrabi.
Usmaan Majeed said the Congress wants both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections to be held together in April-May as situation in 2008 when the Assembly polls were held was bad than today in the wake of Shri Amarnath Ji land agitation and other issues.
“Some vested interests in the Centre Government and the Governor’s administration are trying to delay the Assembly elections without any justification. The Congress is firmly of the view that the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections should be held together in April-May,” Usmaan said.
Senior Congress leader Taj Mohi-ud-Din said his party delegation highlighted the fact that holding Assembly elections together with Lok Sabha elections can lead to higher voter turnout as was witnessed in 2008 Assembly polls.
“We told the Election Commission how in 2008 Assembly elections a high voter turnout was witnessed when people doubted about holding the polls. Our stand was that the Commission has all the data about security deployment in 2008 and it should be easy for them to assess the requirements for this year’s election as well,” Taj said.
The Congress leader said while the Governor’s administration might be doing its job well, President’s Rule cannot be an alternative to an elected Government in terms of redressal of problems faced by the people. “The MLAs are the link between the Government and the people and no one can replace this link. The Government under President’s Rule is bureaucrats’ Government. They are not accessible to common people,” he said.
CPM veteran Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, who led the party delegation in their meeting with the Election Commission of India, too stressed for simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
“Jammu and Kashmir is without and elected Government for the past almost nine months and in absence of the Government, uncertainty is deepening day-by-day and dissatisfaction among large section of people is increasing. Only effective response to this situation is to initiate democratic process and hold elections to Assembly and Lok Sabha simultaneously.
Any delay to do so will hamper the process of improvement in the situation,” Tarigami said.
People’s Democratic Front (PDF) delegation was led by Hakeem Mohammad Yaseen, Democratic Party Nationalist (DPN) delegation was led by Ghulam Hassan Mir, National Panthers Party (NPP) delegation headed by State general secretary, Manzoor Ahmad Naik, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) delegation led by State general secretary, Mushtaq Ahmad, CPI delegation by State Secretary, Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh, Nationalist Congress party (NCP) delegation led by State vice president Saif-ud-Din Khan and Awami Itihad Party (AIP) delegation headed by the Party president Er. Abdul Rashid also met the Election Commission.
Tomorrow, the Commission will hold similar meetings with representatives of political parties besides civil and police officials in Jammu before returning to New Delhi. The Commission will hold separate meeting with Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam and Director General of Police, Dilbag Singh. The Commission is expected to announce its decision on holding of elections in the State at the time of announcing schedule for general elections in the next few days.
Led by CEC Sunil Arora, the Election Commission team comprised Election Commissioners, Sushil Chandra and Ashok Lavasa, Deputy Election Commissioner, Sandeep Saxena, Director General ECI, Dilip Kumar, ADG Sheyphali Sharan, Director Nikhil Kumar and Chief Electoral Officer J&K, Shailendra Kumar.
The ECI team reviewed the state of preparedness of various departments of civil and police administration for ensuring free and fair elections. The Commission asked the State authorities to provide minimum assured facilities at polling stations and ensure that voters are able to reach the stations without any fear or hindrance.
The CEC also reviewed the preparedness in terms of transportation of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and polling material to the booths and deployment of staff on the day of the election. The Commission asked the State authorities to mobilize people and create inducement-free and intimidation-free atmosphere by ensuring sufficient number of security personnel on ground.
The Commission stressed the State authorities to ensure that the expenditure by candidates during the election process is monitored to prevent any illegality.
“The limit of expenditure is Rs 70 lakh for Lok Sabha election and Rs 28 lakh for the State Assembly,” Deputy Election Commissioner, Sandeep Saxena said, adding that action should be taken against those indulging in inducement and illegal gratification to voters.
The Commission asked the State administration to conduct operations on EVMs and VVPATs in presence of stakeholders such as political parties and candidates to ensure transparency. “You should share location of strong-rooms with stakeholders/parties/candidates to prevent any suspicion.” Saxena said.