M A I N   N E W S

J&K poll from Nov 17
Anita Katyal & Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News service

New Delhi, October 19
Ending the prolonged uncertainty, the Election Commission today announced an unprecedented seven-phase assembly poll in Jammu and Kashmir that would be spread over five weeks, from November 17 to December 24.

Counting of votes in the sensitive border state will take place on December 28 and the election process will be completed by December 31.

Announcing the poll schedule here today, chief election commissioner (CEC) N. Gopalaswami said the commission had taken a risk in going ahead with the exercise, ignoring the views of some political parties and outfits.

Polling for the 87-assembly seats will be held on November 17, 23 and 30 and December 7, 13, 17 and 24. The model code of conduct comes into effect immediately in the state, the CEC said.

“There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, churches, temples and other places of worship shall not be used as a forum for election propaganda,” he added. The announcement sets at rest speculation that the polls in the state will not be held before the January 10 deadline, when the Governor’s Rule ends.

Unlike the four-phase voting in 2002, the Election Commission has ordered seven-phase polling this time due to the volatile situation in the state in the wake of the Amarnath land row. There were differences within the Election Commission over the timing of the polls in the state. While Gapalaswami wanted certain factors to be taken into consideration before holding the elections, the two election commissioners - S.Y. Qureishi and Navin Chawla - were of the view that the poll schedule in the state must be announced without any delay.

Last week, the Election Commission had announced the poll schedule for the states of Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Mizoram without taking any decision on Jammu and Kashmir.

The announcement of the poll dates for Jammu and Kashmir came after chief secretaries of six states - Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Haryana - agreed to spare 4,000-5,000 Urdu-speaking employees for the Election Commission to undertake the exercise.

The Congress and the BJP welcomed the announcement of elections. Congress spokesman Shakil Ahmed said the party would abide by the decision of the Election Commission and hoped that the exercise would be free, fair and peaceful. BJP spokesman Prakash Javdekar said his party was fully prepared for the elections and appealed to the people to vote without any fear.

However, given the sentiments in the state, which was virtually divided on communal lines in the wake of the Amarnath imbroglio, it would be an acid test for the authorities to hold a free, fair and peaceful election in the state. Continuing infiltration from across the border would be a major challenge for the security forces and there are apprehensions that Pakistan’s ISI will intensify its activities in the state in the run up to the elections with a view to sabotaging the democratic exercise.

The centre is of the view that any postponement in the elections will embolden the separatist elements in the state. Some of the separatist groups have already given a call for the boycott of the elections.

The centre has assured the EC of adequate police forces during the polls to ensure the security of voters.




Seven-phase Schedule

November 17: Gurez, Bandipora, Sonawari, Nobra, Leh, Kargil, Zanskar, Surankote, Mendhar, Poonch-Haveli.

November 23: Kangan, Ganderbal, Nowshara, Darhal, Rajouri and Kalakote.

November 30: Karnah, Kupwara, Lolab, Handwara and Langate.

December 7: Uri, Rafiabad, Sopore, Sangrama, Baramulla, Gulmarg, Pattan, Chadoora, Badgam, Beerwah, Khansahib, Chrar-i-Sharief, Gulabgarh, Reasi, Gool Arnas, Udhampur, Chenani SC and Ramnagar.

December 13: Tral, Pampore, Pulwama, Rajpora, Wachi, Shopian, Bani, Basohli, Kathua, Billawar and Hiranagar SC.

December 17: Noorabad, Kulgam, Home-shalibugh, Anantnag, Devsar, Doru, Kokernag, Shangus, Bijbehara, Pahalgam, Kishtwar, Inderwal, Doda, Bhaderwah, Ramban SC,and Banihal.

December 24: Hazratbal, Zadibal, Idgah, Khanyar, Habbakada, Amirakadal, Sonawar, Batamaloo, - all in Srinagar; Samba SC, Vijaypur, Nagrota, Gandhinagar, Jammu East, Jammu West, Bishnah, R.S.Pura SC, Suchetgarh, Marh, Raipur Domana SC, Akhnoor and Chhamb SC.

Counting of votes on December 28



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