BJP, opposition leaders spar over 'non-local' voters at EC's all-party meet

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Jammu: Heated arguments between the BJP and opposition leaders over the inclusion of "non-locals" in the voter list were witnessed during an all-party meeting chaired by Jammu and Kashmir chief electoral officer Hirdesh Kumar here over the special summary revision (SSR) of electoral rolls.

While some leaders said they are satisfied over the clarification given by Kumar to dispel their concerns about inclusion of 25 lakh voters, including outsiders, in the voter list, the AAP boycotted the meet and staged a sit-in.

Kumar chaired an hour-long meeting with leaders of almost all political parties, including National Conference, BJP, Congress, PDP, Apni Party, BSP, National Panthers party and CPI(M).

Officials said the meeting was a routine exercise to brief the parties about the ongoing SSR of electoral rolls, the final report of which will be made public on November 25.

"We are satisfied with the clarification given by the chief electoral officer with regard to our main concern over inclusion of 25 lakh voters including non-locals,"General secretary of Pradesh Congress Committee and former minister Yogesh Sawhney told reporters.

He said Kumar made it clear that there was some misunderstanding with regard to the figure and assured that only eligible local voters who have attained or crossed the age of 18 years but could not be added over the past four years would be enlisted as the voters as per the law.

Sawhney, however, said the opposition parties made it clear to the Election Commission and the BJP that they will forcefully oppose any attempt to provide voting rights to non-locals to impact the next assembly elections.

The meeting witnessed heated argument towards the end when senior BJP leader and former minister Sat Sharma, during his speech, supported the inclusion of non-locals in the voters' list citing the Representation of Peoples Act, an insider said.

National Conference provincial president Rattan Lal Gupta said they are somewhat satisfied with the clarification of Kumar, though "we need to remain alert and keep an eye on the exercise".

"Our main objection was where this figure of 25 lakhs has come and whether security forces are also included in it. Kumar first denied having given the number but later said he was withdrawing his remark which is of satisfaction," he said, adding since J&K falls under the Disturbed Areas Act, the security personnel cannot vote in the local elections here.

PDP leader Pervez Waffa said they are not satisfied with the clarification, given the BJP's "opt repeated attempts to compromise the demography and facilitate outsiders".

The party put forth a suggestion to include a political worker in the team at booth level to identify the non-locals so that they are not included in the list, he said.

Defending the stand of the BJP, Sat Sharma said the party favours conduct of the SSR in accordance with the law of the land.

"Anyone eligible to vote, whether local or non-local, should be given his right. The Representation of Peoples Act came into force in J-K after the abrogation of Article 370 (in 2019) and accordingly, the West Pakistani refugees, Gorkhas, Valmiki are eligible to vote along with other Indian citizens who are ordinary residing here," he said.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) boycotted the meeting with its leaders led by former minister Harsh Dev singh staging a sit-in outside the Election Commission office, raising serious concern and objections on mode of its working.

The protesters alleged that the commission has become a "frontal wing" and a "mouthpiece" of the BJP.

"We are boycotting this meeting in the interest of Jammu and Kashmir...All these meetings are just eyewash and an attempt of election commission as well as BJP to befool the people and to revalidate their right of ruling this region through its bureaucratic setup which has already put J&K in a mode of uncertainty and chaos,” Singh said.

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