Press Trust of india

BJP, opposition leaders spar over ‘non-local’ voters at EC’s all-party meet

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Jammu: Heated arguments between the BJP and opposition leaders over the inclusion of “non-locals” in the voter list were witnessed during an all-party meeting chaired by Jammu and Kashmir chief electoral officer Hirdesh Kumar here over the special summary revision (SSR) of electoral rolls.

While some leaders said they are satisfied over the clarification given by Kumar to dispel their concerns about inclusion of 25 lakh voters, including outsiders, in the voter list, the AAP boycotted the meet and staged a sit-in against the Election Commission, alleging that it has become a “mouthpiece” of the saffron party.

Kumar had in August said Jammu and Kashmir is likely to get around 25 lakh additional voters, including outsiders, after the special summary revision of electoral rolls being held for the first time after the abrogation of Article 370.

Following an outcry, the Union territory administration later clarified that “this revision of electoral rolls will cover existing residents of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the increase in numbers will be of the voters who have attained the age of 18 years as of October 01, 2022, or earlier”.

Monday’s meeting assumes significance as it came just days ahead of the scheduled “all-party meeting” convened by the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) here against the issue of giving voting rights to “outsiders” in the Assembly elections.

In an apparent attempt to put an end to the raging controversy surrounding the inclusion of about 25 lakh voters including non-locals, Kumar chaired an hour-long meeting with leaders of almost all political parties, including NC, BJP, Congress, PDP, Apni Party, BSP, NPP and CPI(M).

Officials said the meeting was a routine exercise to brief the parties about the ongoing SSR of electoral rolls, the final report of which will be made public on November 25.

“We are satisfied with the clarification given by the chief electoral officer with regard to our main concern over inclusion of 25 lakh voters including non-locals,” general secretary of Pradesh Congress Committee and former minister Yogesh Sawhney told reporters.

He said Kumar made it clear that there was some misunderstanding with regard to the figure and assured that only eligible local voters who have attained or crossed the age of 18 years but could not be added over the past four years would be enlisted as the voters as per the law.

Sawhney, however, said the opposition parties made it clear to the Election Commission and the BJP that they will forcefully oppose any attempt to provide voting rights to non-locals to impact the next Assembly elections.

The meeting witnessed heated argument towards the end when senior BJP leader and former minister Sat Sharma, during his speech, supported the inclusion of non-locals in the voters’ list citing the Representation of Peoples Act, an insider said.

National Conference provincial president Rattan Lal Gupta said they are somewhat satisfied with the clarification of Kumar, though “we need to remain alert and keep an eye on the exercise”.

“Our main objection was where this figure of 25 lakhs has come and whether security forces are also included in it. Kumar first denied having given the number but later said he was withdrawing his remark which is of satisfaction,” he said, adding since J&K falls under the Disturbed Areas Act, the security personnel cannot vote in the local elections here.

PDP leader Pervez Waffa said they are not satisfied with the clarification, given the BJP’s “opt repeated attempts to compromise the demography and facilitate outsiders”.

The party put forth a suggestion to include a political worker in the team at booth level to identify the non-locals so that they are not included in the list, he said.

Defending the stand of the BJP, Sat Sharma said the party favours conduct of the SSR in accordance with the law of the land.

“Anyone eligible to vote, whether local or non-local, should be given his right. The Representation of Peoples Act came into force in J&K after the abrogation of Article 370 (in 2019) and accordingly, the West Pakistani refugees, Gorkhas, Valmiki are eligible to vote along with other Indian citizens who are ordinarily residing here,” he said.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) boycotted the meeting with its leaders led by former minister Harsh Dev Singh staging a sit-in outside the Election Commission office, raising serious concern and objections on mode of its working.

The protesters alleged that the commission has become a “frontal wing” and a “mouthpiece” of the BJP.

“We are boycotting this meeting in the interest of Jammu and Kashmir…all these meetings are just eyewash and an attempt of election commission as well as BJP to befool the people and to revalidate their right of ruling this region through its bureaucratic setup which has already put J&K in a mode of uncertainty and chaos,” Singh said.

He said dozens of such meetings have been held in the past but not even a single suggestion of opposition political parties was taken on board by the Election Commission and only those decisions are implemented which are decided in the rooms of the BJP.

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