Anyone who lives in Jammu and Kashmir ordinarily can now avail the opportunity to get enlisted as a voter. This is what the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of J&K Hridesh Kumar Singh said on August 18 in the run up to the Assembly Elections in the union territory.
The decision was taken in accordance with the provisions of Representation of the Peoples Act 1951 – an Act to provide for the conduct of elections to the Houses of Parliament and to the House or Houses of the Legislature of each State.
In 2018, after the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) pulled out of the coalition with People Democratic Party (PDP) in J&K, the region has been administered by Lieutenant Governor appointed from New Delhi.
Singh added that around 25 lakh new voters are expected to be enrolled following a special revision of the electoral roll after the abrogation of Article 370 of the region, which was preventing non-residents from buying property and getting government jobs until 2019. Following the announcement, all regional political parties have opposed the move and called it a "dangerous".
Who can vote in J&K?
"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," CEO Kumar Singh said.
He clarified that there was no need for a person to have a domicile certificate of J&K to become a voter. Ordinarily residing persons in the region include migrant workers, businesspersons, students, armed forces personnel — who can can register to be enrolled on the voter list.
"An employee, a student, a labourer or anyone from outside who is living ordinarily in J&K, can enlist his or her name in the voting list. The documents will be scrutinised by the government officials concerned who will take a decision after being satisfied about the claim," the CEO said.
Singh said that addition of new voters is a continual exercise and anyone can approach offline and online to the department, for the ongoing special summary revision. The department has set October 25 the last date for claims and objections. Final electoral rolls in accordance with 90 assembly constituencies will be released by November 25.
Speaking to BOOM, a former Chief Election Commissioner of India (CEC) S.Y Qureshi said that due to abrogation of Article 370, the existing laws in the region has changed and existing law was barring non-residents of J&K to vote in assembly elections. Now after the revocation of Article 370, the law which has been followed by all states would be applicable to J&K.
He explained that the law gives any citizen of India a provision to exercise their votes in the state they are living in. "A person should have been living there for the past six months and have proof of it – like: domicile a rent document or proof of working in the region. He has the right to register to vote from the region," Qureshi told BOOM.
What is the procedure for enrollment?
Any person who fulfils the requirements of registration and is ordinarily residing in the region – working in the private or government sector, businessperson or student can get registered in the voting list. However, the person has to drop his voting right in his native constituency. The registration for two places is not permitted under law.
A senior election commission officer wishing anonymity told BOOM that prior to abrogation of Article 370, outsiders were eligible to get registered in the electoral rolls, if they were living in the region, but they had the right to vote only in Parliamentary Elections under Non Permanent Resident (NPR) voters category.
He explained that to get registered in the enrolment list, an eligible person has to fill Form-6, which contains complete details of the applicant like proof of residence, work and date of birth. After the proper verification conducted by the Booth Level Officer (BLO), who is appointed by the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO), the decision of enrolling in the voting list will be taken by the officer.
There will be camps set up at every high and higher secondary school, colleges, universities, panchayats, engineering colleges, polytechnics, IITs to give them the opportunity to get their names added to the voters' list.
For the first time, the Aadhaar number shall also be linked with a voter card for which existing voters and new voters have to fill Form 6B. "We will be issuing new voter cards with new security features to the voters," he said.
This was not possible before the abrogation of Article 370
Before abrogation of Article 370, non-locals were not eligible to vote in the assembly elections in J&K under ambit of the Representation of People's Act 1957. However, after the abrogation of Article 370, the Representation of the People Act 1950 and 1951 got applicable to the region.
Former Justice and member Parliament Husnain Masoodi of National Conference (NC) told BOOM that under the Article 370 of India, J&K had passed a law of Representation of People's Act 1957 which barred outsiders from voting in J&K. After its abrogation, New Delhi imposed Representation of People's Act 1950 and 1951 in J&K. "Under this law, people who are ordinarily resident of J&K can get his vote registered for assembly elections. It will be decided by an officer appointed by the authorities to declare who is ordinarily resident or who is not," he explained.
Masoodi said that the aim of the move is to disenfranchise people of J&K. "They (BJP) can bring thousands of outsiders and allow them to exercise their vote in the region. It will definitely have a negative impact on people and regional parties," he said.
In Kashmir, thousands of non-local workers from north Indian states, in particular Bihar and UP, and West Bengal come to the region for work. Many of them who have been living there for decades are now also eligible to vote.
However, in the recent past, there has been a spate of targeted killings on non-locals by militants. Later, there were statements by militant groups that non-locals are applying for domicile certificates which will bring demographic changes in the region.
The projected population of J&K who are eligible to vote in the next assembly elections estimated around 98 lakh, while the number of enlisted voters is 76 lakh according to the last voter list.
What regional political parties say about it?
Former chief minister and president of PDP Mehbooba Mufti on Thursday lashed out at the BJP and said the party is adopting Israeli policy to disempower locals in J&K.
She said that voting rights to non-locals is a BJP's conspiracy to win elections in the region and their agenda is to make the BJP nation not Hindu nation. "Every blood drop in Kashmir is cashed by them (BJP) in the country. They will replace the Tricolour with their own saffron colour in the future," Mufti said.
Mufti expressed that all regional political parties are deeply anguished due to the announcement. Accusing BJP of electoral rigging, Mufti added that BJP is doing rigging everywhere in the country and with the use of money and power, they want to hijack all states by hook or by crook.
She said it a Nazi German policy that BJP tries to impose in J&K. "What Israel is doing in Palestine, they are following the same model to disempower locals," she said.
Following the announcement, former Chief Minister and National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah said that BJP is insecure about the support from genuine voters of J&K and which is why they want 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 said.
Peoples Conference Chairman Sajad Lone called the move "dangerous". "I don't know what they want to achieve. This is much more than mischief. Democracy is a relic, especially in the context of Kashmir. Please remember 1987. We are yet to come out of that. Don't replay 1987. It will be as disastrous," Lone said.
Pertinently, after the report of the Delimitation Commission was implemented in J&K, the number of assembly seats has gone up to 90 from 83.
With the increase in the number of assembly seats, there has been a massive change in the existing electoral rolls and now the voter lists are being prepared according to the new framework.