New Delhi: The Election Commission (EC) received enormous flak from opposition parties in Jammu and Kashmir Sunday for not announcing assembly elections in the state alongside the Lok Sabha polls. It turns out, however, that the home ministry had advised the EC to hold assembly elections immediately after the Lok Sabha elections conclude, and not simultaneously.
In a letter written to the EC just days after the 14 February Pulwama terror attack, the home ministry had said that given the higher number of candidates in the fray for the assembly election vis-a-vis the Lok Sabha elections, and the significantly higher requirement of security personnel, it is not advisable to hold elections in the Valley simultaneously.
There are six Lok Sabha constituencies in J&K, and 87 assembly constituencies. In 2014, there were 77 candidates in the fray for the former, while there were as many as 839 in the latter.
The home ministry letter dated 26 February had called for the Lok Sabha elections in the state to be held in five phases, and the assembly elections to be held in seven phases immediately after.
The commission should also keep in mind the Amarnath Yatra and the month of Ramdan before deciding the dates, the letter had said.
In its announcement Sunday, the EC scheduled a five-phase Lok Sabha election in the state, as advised. The commission cited security considerations as reason for its decision to not hold assembly elections in the state simultaneously.
The ministry was responding to a letter written by the EC seeking its views and suggestions on the conduct of elections and requirement of central forces.
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The deployment of the required number of security personnel in J&K can be retained for the assembly elections, the home ministry said in the letter.
According to an assessment made by the state government in the month of February — which was endorsed by the home ministry — there would be a requirement of 520 Central Armed Police Force companies for the general elections, and an additional 110 companies for the assembly elections. Each company consists of at least 100 personnel.
On 28 December, home minister Rajnath Singh delivered a speech in Parliament in which he had said that the central government will provide as many personnel as required to conduct the elections in the state whenever the EC so deems fit.
However, the incidents that unravelled in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack seem to have changed the home ministry’s position on the issue.
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Why elections should be held immediately after
Jammu and Kashmir came under President’s rule in December last year. The EC should ideally conduct elections in the state within six months, according to a Supreme Court rule.
Once an assembly is dissolved, a new House must be in place within six months. However, if the law and order situation of the state does not permit elections, they can be extended beyond the six-month period, the top court rule says.
Effectively, elections in Jammu and Kashmir will have to be conducted soon after the Lok Sabha elections are concluded in May if the security situation does not deteriorate.
While announcing the schedule for the upcoming general elections, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said that a special three-member team of observers will visit Jammu and Kashmir to assess the situation there.