May 2017 News

Anantnag Bypoll Cancelled

2 May 2017
The Hindu
Devesh K. Pandey

New Delhi: The Election Commission on Tuesday cancelled the by-election to the Anantnag parliamentary constituency in Jammu and Kashmir view of the prevailing law and order situation and the Union Home Ministry's inability to provide the requisite number of security personnel for the smooth conduct of the election. In an order, the Commission said it had sought 687 companies of security personnel for the election, based on reports from the State police. However, through a letter dated April 28, the Home Ministry expressed said that only 250 companies could be provided, besides the 54 companies retained for pre poll arrangements. In March, the State administration in its reports stated that certain elements had started campaigning against the by-election, that there was an increase in terrorist activities and posters were circulated in south Kashmir, threatening people with dire consequences if they did not boycott the election. The State initially sought 300 companies of central armed police forces. The Election Commission took up the matter with the Union Home Ministry, which provided the forces. Thereafter, the Srinagar bypoll was held on April 9 and it witnessed large scale mob violence. Apprehending escalation of the violence, the Commission sought a detailed assessment report on Anantnag, where bypoll was scheduled on April 12. The State administration requested that the by-election be deferred, stating that the four districts falling under the constituency: Anantnag, Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian, were the worst affected. Accordingly, it was postponed to May 25. A joint delegation of Pradesh Congress Committee and the National Conference met the Commission on April l8 and expressed concern over the deteriorating law and order situation in the Valley and the security of political activists. The delegation sought adequate measures to instil confidence among voters. The Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party also raised apprehensions, seeking deferment of the bypoll. In the meantime, the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary, in a report, informed the Election Commission that in the past few days, several incidents of burning of schools or panchayat property that were designated polling stations were reported. There were attacks on political personalities and reports of militants harassing the policemen and their families to generate an environment of insecurity, fear and chaos. An apprehension was also expressed that the by-election might witness not only large scale violence, but could also result in an even lower voter turnout. The Chief Secretary concluded that the State government was of the view that the situation was not conducive for holding the election, suggesting that it should be deferred till October end. Till April 27, over 80 incidents of pelting of stones were reported. And 12 terror activities were reported since April 10. A massive social media campaign was launched by separatists, asking people to stay away from the election. The Commission assessed the ground situation in coordination with the political parties and a majority were in favour of deferring the election. The police told the Commission that 687 companies of central armed forces would be required to guard the 1,117 polling stations. In the context of requests for deferment, the Commission also took note of the fact that the Holy month of Ramzan is fast approaching. The annual Amarnath Yatra is due to start in the last week of June and is to continue till August and that the State government will be busy making preparations for the pilgrimage. 'Besides, this period is also an important tourist season that affects the whole trade, business and commerce activities of the State,' said the Commission order. The continuation of the Model Code of Conduct would adversely affect daily life, it added. Taking note of these facts, the Commission said the Anantnag by-election would now be held in due course when the situation became conducive for holding a free, fair and peaceful election.