Time not right for Jammu and Kashmir polls, says EC, cites security

<p>Election Commission’s decision to delink Lok Sabha and assembly polls in J&K has drawn flak</p>Election Commission’s decision to delink Lok Sabha and assembly polls in J&K has drawn flak

NEW DELHI: While the Election Commission’s decision to delink Lok Sabha and assembly polls in J&K has drawn flak, the poll panel went by the assessment of the state, currently under central rule, and the home ministry that the security situation was too delicate for simultaneous elections.

The charged atmosphere in the wake of recent terror attacks, air strikes in Pakistan’s Balakot and an ongoing crackdown against Jamaat-e-Islami and Hurriyat leaders makes joint polling a fraught exercise. Administration sources said the issue was not security at polling booths alone, but a campaign period where a large number of assembly candidates would increase the security challenge.

The grounds cited by the J&K government in seeking a delayed assembly poll includes limited availability of central forces with sources saying tying up the two polls would have required deployment of substantially larger number of personnel, in addition to the massive numbers already made available for the Lok Sabha polls.

Also, the extra forces needed for security of candidates, with the average working out to 30-40 personnel per candidate, was not available.

A joint poll exercise would have needed nearly 30% more central forces. Now that the assembly poll has been delinked, these forces can be spared for states, helping the EC restrict the number of phases nationwide to seven instead of nine in 2014, an EC functionary told TOI. There will be some unique features in J&K with polling in one constituency, Anantnag, spread over three phases.

CEC Sunil Arora on Sunday said EC was committed to holding assembly polls in J&K at the earliest. To assess the situation, EC has appointed three ex-bureaucrats as special observers. They are Noor Mohammad, who earlier oversaw elections in Afghanistan; A S Gill, a former IPS officer who was IG of CRPF in J&K; and Vinod Zutshi, who was with EC.

“The three independent observers will act as eyes and ears of the commission, giving their feedback on whether the security situation in J&K is conducive for polls and how early they can be conducted,” an EC official said.

As per indications, EC is keen to hold assembly poll in J&K soon after Lok Sabha polls are over. This could be as early as June, considering that President’s rule in the state ends that month. TOI has learned that the J&K government favours waiting until October, something that would require extension of the President’s rule.

Arora, while acknowledging that the majority view of political parties in J&K was against delaying the assembly election, said EC, in view of apprehensions expressed by the state government and the home ministry, found it appropriate to be cautious. “EC does not operate as an island and cannot be oblivious to security situation (as assessed by MHA and state government),” he told TOI.

In Anantnag, where Lok Sabha bypoll was deferred for over two years in view of security concerns, polling will be spread on three separate days — covering Anantnag district on April 23, Kulgam on April 29 and the the militancy hotbeds of Pulwama and Shopian on May 6.


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