Assembly polls in J&K likely to start after Amarnath Yatra

Ritika Chopra
The 46-day annual pilgrimage to the south Kashmir Himalayas takes up a lot of the state administration s time and requires heavy security deployment.

Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, in all likelihood, will be held only after the Amarnath Yatra ends in August, even as special observers appointed by Election Commission (EC) had recommended polls in May-June. Officials told The Indian Express that there isn t enough time left for the Commission to announce and wind up a multi-phase election before July 1, when Amarnath Yatra begins.

The 46-day annual pilgrimage to the south Kashmir Himalayas takes up a lot of the state administration s time and requires heavy security deployment. In fact, as the security forces need to man the entire national highway from Lakhanpur to Kashmir Valley and other the yatra routes from Baltal and Pahalgam to the holy shrine, the state administration starts deploying them at least a fortnight before the start of the Yatra. The feasible window (for holding assembly polls before the Yatra) is too tight, said an official, who did not wish to be identified.

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Planning for J&K polls has been caught between two views with EC s special observers telling the Commission that the state should go to poll in either five or six phases right after the Lok Sabha elections and the Union home ministry and the J&K administration pitching for elections after August.

The J&K administration, in fact, is in favour of elections in November so that the nomadic Gujjars and Bakerwals can cast their vote. By then, they would have reached the lawns as part of their seasonal migration from higher reaches, representatives of J&K administration are learnt to have argued in their meeting with the Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra held on April 26.

After this meeting, the Commission had sought a clarification from union home ministry and the J&K administration asking who exactly (or at which level) were their recommendation on the timing of Assembly elections approved before it was shared with the EC.

The two recently clarified that their pitch for polls after August was cleared at the highest level, that is by Home Minister Rajnath Singh and J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik. The state has been without an elected government after the BJP pulled the plug on the coalition government with PDP in June last year. The state was then first placed under Governor s Rule on June 19, 2018 and has been under President s rule since December 19. President s rule will have to be extended in June, if the Commission finally decides to hold assembly elections after the Amarnath Yatra.