With the announcement of the registration of eligible voters in J&K by the representative of the UT Government recently, a section of the political class of Jammu and Kashmir has found a new issue to harp on and has raised the issue of inclusion of non-locals in the electoral rolls of Jammu and Kashmir to arouse the passions of the people. Though the Government of J&K has come out with a clarification as well in this regard yet politics in this context has taken a front seat in the public discourse. The mind of a major section of the political class in J&K is still carrying the hangovers of Article 370, special status and separate constitution. It is because of this hangover that the controversy has found a place in the public debate. Moreover, their politics is based on their separatist agenda, therefore these controversial narratives suit their politics.
Voting In Other States and UTs
It would be in order to place on record that the citizens and State subjects of Jammu and Kashmir have been voting in other States and Union Territories of the country wherever they got themselves registered as voters since inception of the democratic process in the country. They vote for both the Parliamentary as well as the Assembly elections in the States where they continue to live. Consequent upon their jobs, businesses or migrations due to one reason or the other, they have also purchased lands, properties and other assets throughout the length and breadth of the country without any sort of controversy in this regard in these States and UTs. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists of the erstwhile J&K State live almost in all parts of India for the last several decades and enjoy their rights as ordinary citizens. Moreover, this practice is in vogue irrespective of the social and religious background of the people of the JKUT and all sections of the population in J&K have been engaged in such a practice all along.
This practice is not limited to voting only. There are glaring examples when prominent persons of J&K would contest elections from outside the State and get elected to the Parliament of India. They would eventually be made even Ministers in the Union Cabinet. Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mufti Mohd. Sayeed are classic examples in this regard who got elected from Maharashtra and UP respectively and were later appointed as the Ministers in Government of India. Their contesting elections were not subjected to the controversy of non-locals getting elected from the respective States. Law didn’t permit such a controversy nor it permits now.
In addition to this, when Mufti Sayeed was elected from RS Pura in Jammu region for the Assembly of the State, he was practically a ‘non-local’ for the people of the constituency. Parties like the PDP and Congress ought to bring these facts before the public and justify their arguments in the light of these facts about their own past. They also require to explain to their own people in their parties as to why they at all need to ‘encroach’ upon the rights of the people of other constituencies earlier in the context of the arguments they forward now.
There is a thumb rule regarding the registration of voters in India. If a person is continuously residing at a place for the last six months and is otherwise an eligible voter can register himself/herself as a voter. Every citizen, who is 18-years-old on the qualifying date (January 1 of the concerned year, unless disqualified) is eligible to be enrolled as a voter. Enrollment is possible at ordinary places of residence and only at one place. The names of eligible electors ordinarily residing in an Assembly constituency, are enlisted in the voters list by the registering authority. These lists are called the Electoral Roll of that constituency. There are tens of thousands of people from Jammu and Kashmir who have their votes in the respective States and UTs and a few among them have even contested elections and been elected to the municipal bodies of their respective towns and cities in various States without any sort of issues like locals and non-locals.
There is no doubt in the fact that earlier the non-locals in Jammu and Kashmir couldn’t vote in the Assembly elections due to the impact of Article 370 and a separate Constitution of the State. While they could vote in the Parliamentary elections, however, they were not eligible to vote in the Assembly elections. The West Pakistan refugees, though being the registered voters, weren’t permitted to vote in the Assembly elections of the State while they could vote in the Parliamentary elections in J&K. The developments of August 5, 2019 when Article 370 was made dysfunctional along with the abrogation of Article 35A and the separate Constitution of J&K, this anomaly ceased to exist. However, a few elements in the UT of J&K love to live with this anomaly and thus hoodwink the opinion of the people, unfortunately.
For the people of India in general, August 5, 2019 has since decided the issue forever through the biggest temple of democracy in India, the Parliament
Some political parties as well as some public figures in the JKUT continue to be guided by the earlier practices and narratives in this regard. They try to defy the existing ground situation and change the constitutional scheme emerging out of the abrogation of the special status of the State. They don’t agree with the idea of one nation, one Constitution, one flag and one law for all. They continue to harp on the agenda of separatist ideology or the fantasy of sub-nationalism. The hard fact remains that except in the case of appointment in the government jobs and purchase of immovable properties in the UT, the domicile rules don’t apply in any other case. The issue of domicile and the issue of voting are two separate issues and have no intimate relationship whatsoever. A person who is not a domicile certificate holder can also apply to become a voter (if otherwise eligible) and get enrolled as a voter in a constituency anywhere in India. The same applies in the case of Jammu and Kashmir as well. Now, Jammu and Kashmir is not an exception post abrogation of Article 370.
There is a dire need for all the politicians of the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory to avoid rather shun the pastime of creating hypes on flimsy grounds. The hype on electoral rolls is absolutely flimsy and misconceived and has the potential to create confusion and social disharmony in an otherwise fragile atmosphere of the UT deeply influenced by terror, death and destruction of the past three decades.
Politics is an instrument for public welfare and not for sowing seeds of discord and disharmony. Those who embark on the fate of the petitions filed against the Parliamentary actions of August 5, 2019 in the Apex Court should pursue the cases at an appropriate level and wait for the judgement. For the people of India in general, August 5, 2019 has since decided the issue forever through the biggest temple of democracy in India, the Parliament. It is for the people of India to make a judgement on the issue in the 2024 General Elections in which the leaders and parties opposed to the actions of August 2019 will be free to take the issue to the public. Hence, it would be advisable for all to maintain restraint in the public discourse and allow law to take its own course.