In an unprecedented case, a single Lok-Sabha constituency in the country will witness the polls in three phases. Yes! As intense as it sounds, it should not be any wonder that the constituency is in the state of Jammu and Kasmir. South Kashmir to be specific.
The Election Commission has announced that the Lok-Sabha seat of Anantnag will have the voting in three phases. While announcing it the Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said,
“We will have to carry out three phases of election for just one constituency of Anantnag… so you can imagine how complicated it is.”
Anantnag, a parliamentary seat was vacated by Mehbooba Mufti back in July 2016. Mehbooba had secured 2,00,429 votes with a share of a massive 53.41 percent. After the death of her father Mufti Mohammad Syed, she had to vacate the seat after she became the Chief Minister of the state. It has been without any representative since then for about 32 months.
How much ‘complicated’?
On Sunday, when the Chief Election Commissioner announced that the militancy-affected south Kashmir region will go for polling in three phases due to ‘security reasons’. This news was followed by another news for the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Elections for the state assembly, which was dissolved after the BJP withdrew support to the PDP government led by Mehbooba Mufti, would not be conducted along with the Lok Sabha elections 2019. “No assembly polls will be held in Jammu and Kashmir considering the recent incidents, security of candidates,” said the Election Commissioner.
After the end of Governor’s rule for six months, the state got under President’s rule in December 2018. The 87-member state assembly faced a political crisis after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew support to the PDP government led by Mehbooba Mufti in June last year.
The Electoral process in the country has never seen an election in three phases for a single seat, that too vacant for 32 months. The Anantnag parliamentary seat consists of four south Kashmir districts which are Anantnag, ShopiaKulgam, and Pulwama. Anantnag is scheduled for polls on April 23 and Kulgam on April 29 while Shopian and Pulwama will vote on May 6. Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency has 16 Assembly segments, all of which fall in south Kashmir. All these Assembly segments have been facing violence.
The south Kashmir region has been the nerve center of pro-separatist politics during and after the 2016 summer agitation that followed the killing of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani. The death of the young-leader lead to a series of mass protests and confrontation of Armed forces and the Rebels who were agitated by the killing.
Later, the Bye-elections for the Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha seats were scheduled for April 2017. But when at least eight people died in protests during the Srinagar poll, the turnout of the people in the polls was mere 7 percent. As if the above conditions were not enough to make it difficult for the democratic proceedings, the local body elections that held last year had cases where the candidates were barricaded in hotels in Srinagar. Most of the seats in South Kashmir had remained either vacant or the candidates were elected unopposed.
First time since 1996 Assembly elections in J&K are not being held on time. Remember this the next time you are praising PM Modi for his strong leadership.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) March 10, 2019
It has happened for the first time since 1996, that the assembly elections were not held in due time. 1996 witnessed huge violence in the valley, lead to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and alleged killings by both separatists and security forces.
The major political parties in the valley have been seeking assembly polls for a very long time. Earlier this month, all political parties in the State had appealed to the Election Commission for simultaneous polls for both Lok Sabha and the state assembly.
In light of the failure to conduct assembly elections on time in J&K I’m retweeting my tweets from a few days ago. PM Modi has surrendered to Pakistan, to the militants & to the hurriyat. Well done Modi Sahib. 56 inch chest failed. #slowclap https://t.co/oqtDAfNdeb
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) March 10, 2019
Turnout can be difficult.
Considering the lost trust of people in the valley, the Lok Sabha elections can have a minimum turnout in the polls. After the death of Burhaan Wani and the failed alliance of PDP-BJP. Trust on Democratic proceedings seems like an uphill task. Post-Pulwama attacks the situation has further deteriorated with the escalation in cases of violence.
The NIA raids on the popular separatist leaders, Discussions around Article 35A and Article 370 this perhaps would be the most difficult time for polls. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 28 percent voters had turned out to vote in Anantnag, just 1 percent more than the turnout in the 2009 elections. The Srinagar by-poll saw a voter turnout of 7% and the Anantnag by-poll was never conducted.
The major political parties in the Valley are yet to announce their candidates for the elections.
Is there any advantage to the BJP?
It is not just the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the announcement of the polls in other states have also sparked some questions whether the polling can be beneficial for the ruling party or not?
As announced by the Election Commission of India, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar will vote in all seven phases. The state of Jammu & Kashmir will vote in five phases, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Maharashtra will vote in four. In 2014, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra voted in three phases and Odisha voted in two phases. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls (Nine-phase), Uttar Pradesh and Bihar voted in six phases and West Bengal voted in five.
Senior journalist Shekhar Gupta has pointed out the possibility that BJP might be benefitted from these stretched phases. He said, “If you add up the phases …..it adds up to 78 phases. The Election Commission will be shifting forces from one place to another for 78 times. That is madness.”
Such unprecedented moves by the Election Commission has put it in suspicion, given the fact that despite so many glitches and loopholes in the electoral process, India has always been effective in conducting the polls successfully. Such drastic changes only put the institution in question and if the below tweet is to be believed the Government has failed the trust and faith of Democracy.
#PROOF Is there any sanctity of assurance given in #Parliament ? No! If you are Modi-Shah’s BJP.
Speaking on behalf of @AITCofficial on the floor of Rajya Sabha, I asked the Home Min for an assurance that LS & Assembly polls in J&K would be held simultaneously. His response… pic.twitter.com/hxNvPoI7Kn
— Derek O’Brien | ডেরেক ও’ব্রায়েন (@derekobrienmp) March 12, 2019