JAMMU: The Election Commission of India’s meeting on remote voting machines turned out to be a good opportunity for the People’s Democratic Party and National Conference to ask one-on-one questions about the delay of assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
The poll watchdog said that all stages have been cleared for the poll, and the security situation and weather conditions will determine the timing of polls in the union territory.
The poll panel on Monday held a meeting with 65 political parties from across the country on the politically sensitive subject, chaired by the Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, wherein it demonstrated to parties’ representatives the remote electronic voting machine (RVM) for migrant workers.
Three parties—PDP, NC and National Panthers Party were invited by the ECI from Jammu and Kashmir to meeting. While PDP was represented by its spokesperson Syed Suhail Bukahri and his colleagues, Party Treasurer Shammi Oberoi represented National Conference even as the Panthers went unrepresented.
The PDP said that while the ECI’s efforts to ensure participation of people in the electoral process were appreciated, there are 12 million people in Jammu and Kashmir who are deprived of their genuine rights, as their wait for an elected government stretches to almost five years.
“Our (former) Chief Electoral Officer said in August that non-locals living ordinarily in J&K can vote in J&K elections, while the Deputy Commissioners across the union territory are issuing these certificates to such people, enabling them to get enlisted as a voter in J&K
“All this is happening but the election commission is not able to tell us when will the elections happen in Jammu and Kashmir,” Syed Suhail Bukhari hit out at the poll watchdog.
He said that there is a consensus across Jammu and Kashmir on elections.
“Irrespective of the political affiliations, their region and religion, people in Jammu and Kashmir want elections and the democracy restored,” he told the ECI.
National Conference Treasurer Shammi Oberoi echoed Buikhari and said that J&K is suffering on many fronts, without an elected government.
“The people of J&K are being kept away from exercising their democratic rights and choosing their own government which would have effectively addressed their day to day issues,” he said in the meeting.
After the meeting concluded with the remarks by Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, he also shed some light on the poll watchdog’s plan for J&K elections.
“The Chief Election Commissioner of India said that we appreciate your concerns. He said that all stages for the elections in Jammu and Kashmir have been cleared, including the delimitation, special summary revisions, and booth-level restructuring and the commission is now waiting for the inputs on weather and security,” Bukhari told The Dispatch.
The CEC said that once the commission has a clear input on weather and security situation, it will conduct the elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
While the weather will start improving and becoming conducive for any electoral exercise by the end of February, only the Ministry of Home Affairs is competent to take a call on the security situation.
Jammu and Kashmir is without an elected government since June 2018, after the BJP-PDP coalition government fell when the former pulled out of the alliance, leading to imposition of president’s rule.
Earlier, the opposition parties questioned the need to deploy remote voting machines and urged the Election Commission to address the issue of urban apathy towards the poll process.
“No opposition party wants to see the demonstration of a remote voting machine (RVM). First the issue of the need to have such a machine should be settled,” senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh told reporters after participating in the meeting.
The former Madhya Pradesh chief minister said he felt that there would be no RVM demonstration till there is a consensus on having one. No political party is prepared to see the demonstration, he said.
“The idea of RVM is not acceptable,” Singh said, and added that the commission should address concerns about electronic voting machines raised by eminent citizens of the country.
The EC should also address the issue of urban apathy towards the election process, the Congress leader said.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh too questioned the need for an RVM, saying there were other ways to increase participation of voters.
“How will we campaign in different states among eligible migrant voters using RVM? When there is a bypoll on one seat, say Jalandhar, RVM is not acceptable,” he added.
The poll panel had invited representatives of eight national and 57 recognised state parties for an RVM demonstration here.
The commission has maintained that RVMs, developed by the public sector undertaking Electronics Corporation of India, will be a standalone device not connected to the internet in any way. The initiative, if implemented, can lead to a “social transformation” for migrants, the EC had said last month.Each machine can handle up to 72 constituencies, allowing migrant voters to cast their votes from a remote polling booth.
Parties were also asked to give in writing their views by the end of January on issues such as changes required in the law to allow the use of RVMs. On Sunday, leaders of most Opposition parties decided to oppose the EC’s proposal on RVMs after a meeting facilitated by the Congress. The meeting was attended by leaders of the JD(U), Shiv Sena, CPI, CPI(M), National Conference, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Peoples Democratic Party, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, Revolutionary Socialist Party, and the Indian Union Muslim League, as well as Independent Rajya Sabha MP and former Congress leader Kapil Sibal.