In the wake of unprecedented poll boycott and massive protests and clashes during voting for the Srinagar parliamentary segment on Sunday, the Election Commission of India on Monday evening deferred by-election for Anantnag parliamentary segment—which was scheduled on April 12—till May 25.
In an unprecedented move, the ECI decided to defer by-polls for the south Kashmir segment after the State Government communicated to it earlier in the day that the "law and order situation" prevailing in Anantnag parliamentary segment is "not conducive to holding of free and fair polls" in the constituency on April 12.
In its report, the state administration conveyed to the ECI that "there may be violent attempts by some miscreant elements to thwart the polling process in the constituency in view of the violent incidents that have taken place in some parts of the Srinagar parliamentary constituency where the polling was taken on 9th April, resulting in loss of lives."
At least eight youth were killed by forces and over 150 injured as large-scale protests and clashes marred polling in the high-profile Srinagar parliamentary constituency on Sunday, even as the three Kashmir districts that went to the polls observed a near-total boycott of the electoral exercise on the call of Valley's joint resistance leadership. This is perhaps for the first time that such massive protests and clashes have rocked the Valley, especially Central Kashmir's Budgam district, on a day of polling that also saw incidents of protesters barging into polling booths and damaging a number of Electronic Voting Machines.
"The Election Commission, having considered the above report of the state administration and also taking into account inputs received by it from various sources, including the reports from the Chief Electoral Officer of the State, Divisional Commissioner, Returning Officer of the constituency and other election authorities concerned, decided that the poll scheduled to be taken on l2th April 2017 in the 3-Anantnag parliamentary constituency may be deferred for the time being and that it shall be taken on 25 May 2017 by which time the Commission expects the law and order situation in the constituency to improve and become conducive to the holding of free and fair elections," read the ECI order, copy of which is with Greater Kashmir.
According to the order, the entire election process for the segment shall be completed by June 01.
A New Delhi-based news channel claimed that Union Home Secretary wrote to the ECI that polls should be postponed since situation in Kashmir is not conducive for any democratic process.
Reacting to the abysmal low turnout in Srinagar parliamentary segment, the Union Home Ministry advised the poll-body against holding the polls, the channel claimed.
Earlier in the day, the Peoples Democratic Party and Congress were divided over the demand for deferment of polls for Anantnag parliamentary segment scheduled on April 12.
Highly-placed sources told Greater Kashmir that the ECI had Monday morning directed J&K's Chief Electoral Officer Shantamanu to immediately convene a meeting of all parties to seek their views on request for deferment of polls for Anantnag parliamentary seat. The ECI passed the directions after state administration sought deferment of the polls. According to sources, Chief Secretary BR Sharma, who rushed from Jammu to Srinagar this morning, requested the poll-body to defer the polls.
Acting on the ECI directions, the CEO convened a meeting of the political parties to have their views on the matter.
Talking to Greater Kashmir, Shantamanu said the political parties expressed divergent views on the demand for postponement of the polls.
"While some parties including PDP supported the demand for postponement of the polls, the NC and Congress demanded that polls should be held on time," he said.
He said he accordingly conveyed the views of the political parties to the ECI.
At the meeting, the opposition National Conference and Congress opposed the demand for postponement of the proposed election, while PDP favored it. Its ally BJP also backed the demand for postponement of the polls, saying the ECI "should take whatever decision is necessary to save the loss of human lives."
The opposition National Conference delegation comprising its General Secretary Ali Muhammad Sagar, Muhammad Akbar Lone, Nasir Aslam Wani, Showkat Ahmed Mir and party's legal cell advisor and former Advocate General Ishaq Qadri favored holding of the polls on time, saying "the PDP is facing imminent rout from the State and is now seeking an escape route."
"PDP, due to its heinous role in suppressing and brutalizing the people, is facing an imminent rout from the State and is now seeking an escape route. Where was the party's conscience when National Conference repeatedly asked for the deferment of elections and categorically said the situation in the State was not conducive for holding the polls? At that time PDP opposed the general and overwhelming political consensus in the State and went against the grain of public opinion and the prevailing ground situation," a party spokesman quoted the delegation as saying.
"Today their stand is purely and only based on the fact that they have realized that their decimation is a foregone conclusion."
Talking to Greater Kashmir, Congress MLC Ghulam Nabi Monga said they opposed the demand tooth and nail.
"We told the CEO that polls should be held on time as there is no fun of deferring the polls at the time when all preparations have been made in this regard," Monga said.
Monga was accompanied by party MLA Usman Majeed during the meeting.
PDP representatives Yasir Reshi and Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra strongly pitched for postponement of the polls.
"We told the CEO that atmosphere is not conducive for holding of the election, so it should be postponed," Reshi told this newspaper.
BJP representative Asif Masoodi said they left the issue to ECI.
"We told the Commission that it should take whatever decision is necessary to save the loss of human lives," he said.