Kashmir, Lok Sabha Elections To Be Held Together, State CEO To Meet ECI Officials This Week

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SRINAGAR: State elections in Jammu and Kashmir will be held along with the 17th Lok Sabha elections that are due to be held across India between April and May this year, a senior government official said on Wednesday.

The official, while requesting anonymity, said that discussions on the state and general elections in Jammu and Kashmir are likely to begin this week on the sidelines of a workshop held by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in New Delhi.

The day-long workshop will be attended by chief electoral officers (CEO) of all states and union territories. Jammu and Kashmir’s CEO Shailendra Kumar will also be among the participants of the workshop, the official said.

“The first meeting in the run up to the election will likely be held in Delhi this week. The CEO of Jammu and Kashmir will be in attendance and it is possible that he would be asked to apprise the ECI about situation in the state, especially the Kashmir region,” the official said.

Kumar confirmed to HuffPost India that he would be travelling to New Delhi this week, but added that he “didn’t know yet if he would be called in for a meeting” by ECI officials who are responsible for conducting elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Whatever the directions are from the ECI, they will be followed in the state and across the country. As far as my visit to Delhi is concerned, I am travelling to attend a workshop for chief electoral officers. CEOs from all over the country will be attending the workshop. I don’t know yet if I will be asked to update ECI about the situation in the state, but if that is the case, I am ready to do so,” Kumar told Huffpost India.

The development comes just days after Home Minister Rajnath Singh informed the Rajya Sabha that the Centre was prepared to hold elections in the state.

Central government officials monitoring the Kashmir situation said the meeting between Jammu and Kashmir’s CEO and the ECI will be followed by at least 3-4 other meetings before exact poll dates are announced.

Last week, during a discussion in the Rajya Sabha about the statutory resolution on the proclamation issued by the President in relation to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 356, Singh had said though the “Election Commission is responsible for conducting polls, the Centre is ready to provide maximum security forces to it. We will extend whatever infrastructure is needed”.

The senior government official quoted above said that the “peaceful local body elections” that were held in Jammu and Kashmir in October and November had encouraged the state and central security forces to take the Home Ministry into confidence. Though the urban local body and panchayat elections of 2018 witnessed a low turnout, the polls were held without any major incident of violence.

“Separatist groups announced a poll boycott and militants threatened people who were participating in the election process, both voters and candidates. The mainstream parties boycotted the election as well, which only added to lowering the tally of polls in Kashmir. Still the elections went peaceful. Our concern for the state and Lok Sabha polls remains to be a low voter turn out,” the official said.

National Conference leader and former minister of Housing and Urban Development, Nasir Aslam Wani, said that “it was not the first time in Kashmir’s insurgency” that mainstream politicians have been a target.

“We have always faced threat, but for the greater good we have taken this risk in the past and will continue to do so,” he added.

Central government officials monitoring the Kashmir situation said the meeting between Jammu and Kashmir’s CEO and the ECI will be followed by at least three to four other meetings before exact poll dates are announced.

The ECI will approach the Home Ministry, asking for deployment of troops for election duty in Kashmir. This will be followed by a couple of meetings within the Home Ministry presided by Singh. The meeting will involve officials of central investigative agencies, Jammu and Kashmir police, senior officials of Jammu and Kashmir state administration and senior officials of paramilitary forces.

A senior paramilitary officer while speaking to HuffPost India on condition of anonymity said, “The paramilitary forces, be it CRPF or BSF, are prepared to provide security for the elections. We managed the local body elections peacefully.”

The officer, however, did add that maintaining law and order, in the face of a growing militant movement and spurts of public unrest will be challenging.

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