Festival of democracy returns to J&K


The elections to the five seats in Jammu and Kashmir, barring the Union Territory of Ladakh, which will poll separately on May 20; will be held across five phases, with Udhampur going first today….reports Asian Lite News

Almost five years to the historic abrogation of Article 370, stripping the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir of its special constitutional privileges, the Union Territory is taking its first steps towards the restoration of statehood as polling is underway for the five Lok Sabha seats today.

Polling in the UT is happening after suspected terrorists shot dead a migrant worker from Bihar in the Anantnag district, in a reminder of the tag that the erstwhile state is desperate to shed.

However, the polling this time is unlike anything that the erstwhile state had seen in its history, with the UT administration and BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) pushing the narrative of a ‘Naya Kashmir’, highlighting all the work towards the development of public infrastructure over the last few years as well as the surging footfall of tourists.

The elections to the five seats in Jammu and Kashmir, barring the Union Territory of Ladakh, which will poll separately on May 20; will be held across five phases, with Udhampur going first on Friday.

Former chief minister Farooq Abdullah expressed his displeasure over the scheduling of the polls in the erstwhile state, saying it was disheartening that the EC decided not to conduct the parliamentary and assembly polls simultaneously.

“This government is pushing for ‘One Nation, One Election’ and holding state elections and parliamentary elections in four states simultaneously. Why then is Jammu and Kashmir being denied simultaneous general and assembly elections? When every party here is asking for it, why are simultaneous elections not being held here?” the NC patriarch said.

With the historic passing of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 by the Parliament, Article 370, through which a special constitutional status was accorded to the erstwhile state; ceased to exist.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir was split and reorganised into two UTs–Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh–in October 2019.

The BJP has given a fresh ticket to sitting Udhampur MP and Union Minister Jitendra Singh, who has been representing the constituency in the Lok Sabha since 2014 when he defeated then-Congress leader and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

The Congress has fielded Choudhary Lal Singh from Udhampur. Six years after being forced to resign his membership of the party after allegedly leading a rally in favour of the accused in the rape of a minor girl in Kathua, Lal Singh was ushered back into the grand old party.

The Mehbooba Mufti-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which is not contesting the Lok Sabha polls in the UT as a partner in the INDIA bloc, has extended their support to the Congress candidate.

As part of the seat-sharing agreement reached between the INDIA bloc partners, the Congress will contest Jammu, Udhampur and Ladakh parliamentary constituencies, while the National Conference (NC) will contest the Anantnag-Rajouri, Srinagar and Baramulla Lok Sabha seats.

Addressing a mega rally at Udhampur recently in favour of Jitendra Singh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a huge statement, saying the day isn’t far when full statehood will be restored to Jammu and Kashmir and assembly elections will be held.

Underscoring the ‘change’ that has come to the erstwhile state, PM Modi said for the first time, terrorism and cross-border infiltration wouldn’t be poll issues going into an election in Jammu and Kashmir.

However, prominent Opposition forces in the UT, including the Congress, have alleged suppression of rights by the Centre while demanding the restoration of Article 370 and the special privileges for the erstwhile state that it guaranteed.

Speaking to reporters earlier this week, PDP chief and former CM Mehbooba Mufti accused the BJP-led NDA at the Centre of turning the state into an ‘open jail’.

“They (the central government) have converted Jammu and Kashmir into an open jail.

“You must have heard how militants shot at a tourist guide in Shopian recently. It was an unfortunate incident. Thousands of youth from Jammu and Kashmir are being jailed across the country,” she said.

National Conference leader and former CM Omar Abdullah alleged earlier that the BJP’s manifesto was aimed at the ‘destruction’ of the erstwhile state, adding that he still hadn’t lost hope of the restoration of Article 370.

“BJP manifestoes have always brought destruction to Jammu and Kashmir,” the former CM said, adding, “We still haven’t lost hope of restoration of Article 370. There are many like-minded parties such as the DMK and TMC, which are with us on Article 370.”

Earlier, elections to the District Development Councils (DDCs) in Jammu-Kashmir were held in 2020, with the BJP emerging as the single-largest party with 74 seats. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), led by Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference, won 110 seats.

Also, crucially, the elections to the Lok Sabha on Friday will be the first since the passage of two key legislations–the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023–in Parliament.

While the former legislation proposes changes in the constituencies of the UT, the latter provides for reservation in jobs and professional institutions to members of SC, ST, and other socially and educationally backward classes.

The first Bill was drafted after redrawing the boundaries of Anantnag and Jammu Lok Sabha seats. The Pir Panjal region, which comprises Poonch and Rajouri, was previously a part of the Jammu seat but has now been added to the Anantnag seat in Kashmir. Similarly, another region in Srinagar constituency has now been made a part of the Baramulla constituency.

In the 2019 elections, the BJP won three seats while the National Conference won the remaining three. (ANI)

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