As many as 40,000 migrants from Pakistan are part of 1.7 million people who are eligible to cast their vote Thursday in the Jammu parliamentary constituency. These migrants, however, can’t vote in the assembly polls. The 40,000 migrants are among nearly 100,000 refugees from Pakistan who could affect the electoral fortunes of the candidates in this constituency.
These refugees came here after 1947 and after the two wars of 1965 and 1971 between India and Pakistan.
Over 40,000 among them have voting rights in the parliamentary elections. Ironically this is the only ‘privilege’ these migrants have of being Indian citizens.
They cannot vote in the state assembly elections, have no property rights under the permanent resident or state subject rules of Jammu and Kashmir, nor can anyone of them apply for a government job here.
The bizarre situation owes itself to the fact that as per the Jammu and Kashmir constitution which runs concomitantly in the state with the country’s constitution, these migrants are yet to be given citizenship rights.
Those migrants who came here after Nov 17, 1956, the day J&K constituent assembly adopted the state’s constitution, are caught in this piquant situation.
With 1.76 million voters to exercise franchise at 2,271 polling stations in this Lok Sabha constituency Thursday, mobilization of security forces, poll staff and contingency plans to ensure free and fair poll are on here.
Although there are 19 candidates belonging to different national and regional parties in the fray here, the main contest is believed to be triangular — among the BJP, the Congress and the regional Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Madan Lal Sharma of the Congress supported by regional National Conference (NC) is seeking re-election while he is facing a strong challenge from BJP’s Jugal Kishore.
PDP’s Yash Pal Sharma, who belongs to the Poonch district which is one of the four voting districts of this Lok Sabha constituency, is not somebody either the Congress or the BJP can afford to take lightly.
There are Hindu, Muslim and Sikh voters in this constituency besides some Christian voters.
Among the Muslim voters, there is an economic and cultural divide between backward tribal Gujjars, Bakerwals (goatherds) and the otherwise well-to-do Muslims in the constituency.
The Jammu region, especially the Hindu majority Jammu Lok Sabha constituency, has been polarized on religious lines after the Hindu-Muslim riots in Kishtwar town last year.
Although Kishtwar district is not a voting segment for this Lok Sabha seat, yet the shock waves of last year’s riots had forced authorities to clamp curfew in many towns of this constituency as well.
Polling stations have been set up at many places close to the International Border (IB) in Jammu and Samba districts and the line of control (LoC) in Poonch and Rajouri districts.
The election authorities have identified 52 polling stations close to the IB and the LoC where voting can get affected if there is a firing from across the border on that day.
“A contingency plan is already in place to shift these polling stations to safer locations if there is any violation of ceasefire on the IB and the LoC on the day of polling,” said a senior poll official.
Of the 2,271 polling stations, around 100 have been declared as hypersensitive, while 600 are sensitive.
Besides the state police force, 39 additional companies of central armed forces and 32 companies of state armed police are being deployed to ensure free and fair voting on Thursday.