April 2016 News

Why Was Anantnag Bypoll Postponed?

29 April 2016
The Tribune (Chandigarh)

Jammu: When Mehbooba Mufti was preparing for her political test as Chief Minister to reinforce an image of a winner, the Election Commission of India postponed the bypoll to Anantnag Assembly constituency saying it was being done at the behest of her administration. Forgetting that she never lost an Assembly election from 1996 to 2008, her critics were quick to pronounce a judgment: 'She is shying away from facing the people.' They disregarded the fact that she had also won two of the three parliamentary elections she contested since 1999. The ECI postponed the byelection to the Anantnag Assembly constituency on April 21 citing the 'law and order' reasons advanced by the state administration. The Anantnag seat held by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had fallen vacant after his death on January 7. Mehbooba, not being a member of the legislature, was the natural candidate from the vacant Assembly seat. It would have fulfilled a constitutional requirement of her entering the legislature within six months of her taking over as Chief Minister on April 4. Mehbooba represents Anantnag parliamentary constituency in the Lok Sabha comprising 16 Assembly segments (Anantnag being one of them) spread over four districts of south Kashmir. As a policy matter, the ECI had announced byelections to the vacant seats across the country on April 19. But the ECI had not sought the law and order assessment from the J&K Government before making the announcement. After the elections were announced, Chief Secretary BR Sharma and Director General of Police K Rajendra submitted the law and order report, which stated that 'the law and order situation in the state was not conducive to hold the byelection on May 16th.' Holding elections in Kashmir is a massive exercise. It involves area domination by the forces, given the turbulent record that the polling history of the Valley since the 1989 parliamentary elections when TV sets were placed in the main square in Anantnag to test the valour of voters. A note had read: 'Vote and take the TV set.' The area domination by the forces to protect the voters from any harassment and also to ensure free and fair polling takes a minimum of three weeks. The Centre had taken away 35 companies from Jammu and Kashmir for the election duty in four states and one union territory. After Handwara erupted recently over the alleged molestation of a minor, the state got back only six companies. What if on the polling day, stones were hurled at polling stations? Security personnel cannot fire at them, nor can they teargas them, and cane-charging on the election day is a blasphemy. Anantnag is the hub of militancy. Secession is a deep-seated idea in that place. Shabbir Shah, a senior leader of the Hurriyat Conference is an iconic separatist from there. In the 1960s, when he was in his early teens, he was arrested for launching anti-India protests. Anantnag is also home town of the late Mirza Afzal Beg, who inaugurated Plebiscite Front that called for plebiscite for Kashmiris. For a period of good six and a half years (1990 to 1996), elections could not be held in J&K, the only state where the 1991 parliamentary elections were not conducted. Militancy was at its peak in J&K then. Now, there is a different threat perception. If the EC had not been convinced, it would not have deferred the poll.