In a surprise development, the Shiv Sena (Thackeray Group) and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), were among other Opposition parties which on Monday attended an all-party meeting at Dr Farooq Abdullah’s residence in Srinagar to formulate a joint strategy against the move of the Election Commission to add 20 to 25 lakh non-locals in the electoral list for the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir. They have vowed to resist the inclusion of non-locals in the UT’s voter list.
However, efforts of Dr Abdullah and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti to put up a united front on the issue suffered a setback as the People’s Conference chairman Sajad Lone, J&K Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) skipped the meeting. Newly appointed Congress chief Vikar Rasool Wani and working president Raman Bhalla attended the meeting.
Narinder Singh Khalsa of the Akali Dal (Mann) and Manish Sahni, president of Uddhav Thackeray group of Shiv Sena’s J&K unit were also present in the meeting. MP and National Conference leader Dr Abdullah had personally telephoned all opposition leaders, except the BJP, and invited them for the meeting.
Briefing media persons after the meeting, Dr Abdullah said that it was unanimously decided in the meeting that the move to give voting rights to non-locals in Jammu and Kashmir elections will be resisted by all the opposition political parties. Abdullah said: “They are saying the new voters would be 25 lakh. It could be 50 lakh, 60 lakh or even a crore. There is no clarity on this. The decision has created concern among people in all regions of J&K as the stakeholders were not taken into confidence before taking the vital decision.”
“As such the move was unacceptable to the Opposition parties. Once the voting rights are given to the non-locals in J&K, everything including the identity of the state would be lost. We have, therefore, decided that the move to give voting rights to non-locals will be opposed and resisted jointly by all of us. The Opposition parties in the Parliament will be invited to J&K in the end of September to have first-hand account of the ground reality and feel the pulse of the people against the BJP’s move to ‘import’ voters from outside,” he said.
According to Dr Abdullah, the second thing, which is most important, is that many political parties have not been provided security here. How does the government plan to protect the non-local labourers after they become vulnerable? Any decision regarding this should be carefully thought over, he said. The opposition leaders will visit Jammu to discuss the issue with all sections and also explore the possibility of judicial intervention.
Others who attended the all-party meeting in addition to Dr Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah include Mehbooba Mufti of PDP, Yusuf Tarigami of CPI-M, and Muzzafar Ahmad Shah of the Awami National Conference.
Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Electoral Officer Hirdesh Kumar had last week said that non-locals who are ordinarily residing in Jammu and Kashmir for different purposes can register their names in the voters’s list and exercise their franchise in the next Assembly elections in the state. “The requirement of domicile is not necessary for outsiders to get enlisted as voters. The armed forces personnel from other states who are posted at peace stations in J&K can also get their names added in the voter list,” he said.
Before skipping the meeting, Apni Party leader Altaf Bukhari had said yesterday that the clarification on the controversy issued by the government has cleared the doubts. People’s Conference leader Sajad Lone told media persons this morning that he does not agree with the politics of Dr Abdullah. The meeting convened by him seems to be a point-scoring exercise and he would not want to be a part of it.
Targeting Mehbooba Mufti, Lone said she was desperate to retrieve her lost ground. Referring to the clarification of the Union Territory Administration on the issue of non-local voters, Lone, who is a former minister, and was an ally of the BJP from 2014 to 2018, said: “We neither accept nor reject the clarification in totality. We will wait till 1st October when the draft electoral rolls are published. If there is any wrongdoing, we will agitate outside the Parliament,” he added.