Reasonable to expect better turnout in J&K assembly polls

Whether the delimitation exercise that raised the number of assembly seats from 83 to 90, 47 in Kashmir and 43 in Jammu, would benefit the BJP remains to be seen.
Voters stand in long queue to cast their votes in the J&K Assembly Elections.
Voters stand in long queue to cast their votes in the J&K Assembly Elections.File photo | PTI

With the deadline for the J&K assembly elections imposed by the Supreme Court a little over three months away, the process of poll roll revision has just kicked off. This will be the first state election after the BJP lost its majority in the Lok Sabha, sliding to 240 seats from 303 in the 2019 general elections. The party continues to remain in power due to its pre-poll NDA tie-up, though without the afterglow of 2014 and 2019.

J&K saw unprecedented voter enthusiasm in the recent general elections, the first after the Centre took away its special powers under Article 370 on August 5, 2019. At 58.58 percent, the polling percentage was the highest in 35 years. The absence of fear of the gun apparently contributed to the full expression of the people’s will at the hustings.

Violence resumed only around the time the verdict was out and the Pakistani leadership was greeting Narendra Modi for his third consecutive term as prime minister. Significantly, Pakistan lost sway in the Kashmir valley ever since the repression of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his followers by their military establishment.

That Kashmiris decisively voted out the National Conference and PDP heavyweights Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti in Baramulla and Anantnag-Rajouri indicated their disenchantment with the leadership of the two prominent regional parties. But they gave the NC two seats elsewhere. Omar lost to a jailed independent, Engineer Rashid, by over two lakh votes; Mufti was trounced by over three lakh votes.

The BJP picked up the other two seats. In all, the BJP did well only in one-third of 90 assembly segments in J&K in the Lok Sabha polls. Whether the delimitation exercise that raised the number of assembly seats from 83 to 90—47 in Kashmir and 43 in Jammu—would benefit the BJP remains to be seen.

The voter turnout could go up further in the assembly polls because local issues normally have more resonance in the mind space than national ones. Preparations for the elections can begin only after the annual 50-day Amarnath Yatra is wrapped up on August 19. That will give the poll panel about six weeks to hold the elections after redeploying the security forces. Whatever the outcome, the post-poll restoration of statehood for J&K is a given, but not Article 370 because of constitutional impediments.

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