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J&K assembly elections possibly by year-end: Defence Minister

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“Foreign conspiracy behind communal tension, target killings in J&K”

Jammu: In the first indication of a timeline for Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir since it was downgraded to a Union Territory, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday said there is a possibility of holding the polls “by this year-end”.

Addressing a function here to celebrate the 200th year of the coronation of Maharaja Gulab Singh, the defence minister said the delimitation exercise has been completed following which the number of seats has gone up to 90 with Kashmir having 47 seats and Jammu 43.

Rajnath Singh, who was on a two-day visit to the Union Territory, said, “By this year-end, there is a possibility of holding assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.”

The indication of a timeline comes two days after the Election Commission initiated the revision of electoral rolls in the union territory, and is set to prepare the draft rolls by August 31.

According to the officials, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar and Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey carried out a review and directed the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer to map the redrawn Assembly constituencies.

During the revision exercise, citizens would be given opportunities to enroll, delete and change their particulars in the electoral rolls.

Last month, the Central government issued a notification saying the orders of the Delimitation Commission which redrew electoral constituencies and provided six additional Assembly seats to the Jammu division and one to Kashmir would come into effect from May 20.

According to the orders of the Delimitation Commission, set up under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019, the Union Territory will have 90 Assembly constituencies — 43 in the Jammu division and 47 in Kashmir — with nine of them being reserved for the Scheduled Tribes.

The erstwhile state had 87 seats — 46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu and four in Ladakh. During its reorganisation, Ladakh was declared a separate union territory without a legislature.

The three-member delimitation panel was headed by Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, a retired judge of the Supreme Court. Then Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra (now retired) and Jammu and Kashmir Election Commissioner K K Sharma were its two ex-officio members.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a meeting with Jammu and Kashmir leaders on June 24 last year, had said the ongoing delimitation exercise has to happen quickly so that polls can be held to install an elected government that gives strength to its development trajectory.

Commenting on the recent targeted killings in Kashmir, Defence Minister said that there is a “foreign conspiracy” behind the recent communal tension and target killings by terrorists and asserted that the central government will not allow another forced migration of any community from any part of the Union Territory.

“Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) along with Gilgit-Baltistan are illegally under the occupation of Pakistan which surprisingly is making a claim on the land despite knowing the fact that it was part of the empire of Maharaja Gulab Singh, the founder of Dogra rule,” he said.

“There are some forces in Jammu and Kashmir who have always tried to harm the social fabric and encouraged radicalisation. Recently, the attempts to fan communal hatred increased…the communal tension in Bhaderwah town (Doda district) is against our culture,” the minister said.

Singh, who reached Jammu on the second-leg of his two-day tour of Jammu and Kashmir, said no country can progress if its population is divided in communities.

“In Jammu and Kashmir, our neighbouring country is playing an important role in sowing the seeds of hatred. From 1947-48 tribal raids, till the recent targeted killings (by militants in Kashmir), there is a foreign conspiracy behind this,” he said.

Without naming Pakistan, the defence minister said the neighbouring country is not happy with India marching ahead despite various challenges.

“We have to thwart this conspiracy and the people of Jammu and Kashmir need to build their future with their own hands,” he said.

“Our government took the pledge of resolving the Jammu and Kashmir problem when it first came to power in 2014 when I was the home minister. The work is going on at a fast speed under the new home minister (Amit Shah),” he added.

Stating that the twin Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have a major role in “new India”, he said the BJP-led government took a number of steps for the welfare of the displaced people, whether they are West Pakistani refugees, Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) residents or Chamb migrants.

“There was no honest move to resettle 5,674 refugee families of West Pakistan but our government provided them Rs 5.5 lakh per family for their one-time settlement and similarly.”

“The package was extended to PoJK displaced persons and Chamb refugees who were also provided Rs 5.5 lakh per family. A package of Rs 2,000 crore was given to Kashmiri migrant Pandits to create transit accommodations and jobs for them besides increasing their monthly relief,” he said.

Singh said Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed the pain of displaced people and “we will not allow another displacement of any community, whether Hindus or Muslims or Christians, from any part of the UT. I assure you that we will not allow forced migration of anyone”.

Referring to PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan, he said “Pakistan has no locus standi on these areas. Had it been so, its constitution never mentioned it while as our constitution says that PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan are part of India and both the houses of our parliament have passed a unanimous resolution in this regard.”

Paying rich tributes to Maharaja Gulab Singh and other Dogra rulers who extended the boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir, he said they have a dream after making Jammu and Kashmir part of India and therefore “every section of the society had to come forward and take a pledge to fulfill their dream which will be a great tribute to them.”

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