NEW DELHI: The full Election Commission is visiting Srinagar this weekend to assess the situation amidst an overwhelming demand for holding Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir on schedule, notwithstanding the widespread damage to life and property caused by the recent floods.
The visit of the Commission–Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath and ECs H S Brahma and Nasim Zaidi–comes close on the heels of a trip made by DEC Vinod Zutshi last week for an assessment whether elections can be held now or not in view of the massive devastation Srinagar and parts of the valley suffered during the recent floods.
The term of the six-year Assembly expires on January 19 next and the election process should be completed before that and there have been indications that the Centre was also in favour of holding polls on schedule. Highly-placed sources said that the Commission will meet leaders of various mainstream political parties like the ruling National Conference, Congress, PDP and the BJP and take their views on whether to hold elections on schedule.
The ruling National Conference is opposed to holding of the polls on schedule and in the words of state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah “people are struggling to rebuild their lives”.
However, its ally Congress, main opposition PDP and BJP are favouring the polls before the term of the outgoing Assembly ends.
BJP, which heads the government at the Centre, is said to be counting on the gains it expects to make in the Jammu region mainly on the back of its impressive showing in the Lok Sabha polls in May.
Abdullah, who was in the capital on Tuesday, said the situation in the state was not conducive for holding elections due to the recent floods and warned that there could be “zero percentage turn out” in Srinagar.
The Chief Minister told reporters after meeting Home Minister Rajnath Singh that while the state government has the capability to hold the elections, a distinction should be made whether it is the opportune time.
He, however, made it clear that it was the Election Commission which would take a final call. “Look my party (National Conference) has made it very clear that this is not the opportune time to hold the polls. We believe that at this point of time people are struggling to rebuild their life,” he said.
The Chief Minister said the recent floods had not hit some sparsely populated rural areas but some of the most heavily populated areas of Kashmir Valley.
“The capital city anyway had less than optimum turnout in elections. Tomorrow when zero percentage turnout will happen in Srinagar, who will you blame for that. You certainly cannot blame me. “Because I am not the one who is pushing for elections. You have to blame those people who are trying to hold elections,” he said.
Omar said by holding elections at this point of time, more misery will be brought to people and hence the National Conference made it clear its stand to the Election Commission even though the party was in minority in that meeting. The last elections were held between November 17 and December 24 in seven phases and counting of votes was done on December 28.
Unlike last Assembly polls when Jammu and Kashmir was clubbed with five other states, this time the state will go to polls alone if it is held on schedule and deployment of para-military and other forces will not be a problem, sources said.
Meanwhile, highly-placed sources in the Commission said that the report of J-K Chief Electoral Officer Umang Narula on the ground situation in the state would be received in a couple of days. “It will help us finalise our stand on the timings of the election,” said a senior functionary.
He said that during the visit of Deputy EC Zutshi to Jammu and Srinagar, the issue of damaged roads and buildings in the state was raised. Zutshi was told that infrastructure was necessary for the holding of free and fair polls.
Another area of concern for the poll body is the revision of electoral rolls, which was underway before the floods hit the state. The revision was expected to be over by the first week of October, but has now been delayed. The cut-off date for eligibility in J-K is Oct. 1, 2014. The electoral rolls in J-K have a special provision of four cut-off dates for revision — Jan. 1, April 1, July 1 and Oct. 1. (PTI)