Kashmiri migrants have welcomed the poll panel’s decision to do away with the cumbersome Form M to participate in the electoral process, but rue that lack of awareness regarding the development led to poor turnout of the community in the recent District Development Council polls.
The State Election Commission (SEC) in Jammu and Kashmir had this time ordered transfer of votes of Kashmiri migrants from their native constituencies in Kashmir Valley to the polling stations set up for them in Jammu and Udhampur.
Earlier, Kashmiri migrants used to vote in transitory camps set up outside the Valley in Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi. They were supposed to fill and submit Form M before exercising their right to vote.
The scheme was devised to help the Kashmiri migrant population living in various parts of the country to vote during the elections to the legislative assembly in September-October 2002 and the general elections in 2004, 2009 and 2014, officials said.
“The last minute change in the procedure for voting for Kashmiri migrants and lack of awareness resulted in confusion among the community members, Nidhi Bhat, who voted in the District Development Council (DDC) polls held on Saturday, said.
She said there would have been large-scale polling by the Kashmiri migrants if the election body had adequately publicised about the new direct voting pattern.
“My vote is for the safe return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) in a satellite township. We hope the government will soon fulfil our demand, Nidhi said.
Nidhi’s sister, Sheetu Bhat, who came from Delhi to vote in the DDC polls, said it was her first experience of participating in an electoral exercise.
“I am happy to vote for the first time as the process of filing up M-form has been done away with. I thank the poll body for bringing this change, Sheetu, who voted in Jammu, said.
Many migrant voters also alleged that last minute changes in polling stations also prevented them from casting their votes.
Ashok Dhar, a voter of Pahalgam constituency, complained that he was unable to vote this time despite exercising his right to vote in the last Assembly and parliamentary elections.
“I could not cast my vote. There was confusion over the polling station and lack of awareness regarding the new polling mechanism, he said.
The polling officials, however, argued that enough publicity was made to make people aware about the new voting mechanism.
The SEC had made elaborate publicity of the new process of polling for KPs and advertisements were given in newspapers, Relief Commissioner T K Bhat said.
He said vehicles were kept at 14 places to ferry Kashmiri migrant voters from various places, including the Jagti township to polling station at Gandhinagar.
The official though admitted to low voter turnout among the community.
Bhatt said as per poll figures, only 36 votes were polled by Kashmiri migrants, including 32 in Jammu and four in Udhampur.
He said Kashmiri migrants were entitled to vote in 25 constituencies of Kashmir Valley.
“Out of these 25 constituencies, no Kashmiri migrant voted in 10 constituencies, the relief commissioner said.
BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pandita also agreed that there was a need for wide publicity through all forms of media to inform the Kashmiri migrants about the polling stations and new method of voting.
“We will reach out to the community to make them aware about the direct voting pattern. The SEC and relief department should also launch awareness campaigns in this regard for the next seven phases of polling, he said.
Senior NC leader M K Yogi said there was confusion among the Kashmiri migrants whether to vote through postal ballots, M-forms or direct voting.
“Nobody knew where to vote or what method to vote. The SEC failed to publicise the new voting pattern among the community, he alleged.