World Bulletin/News Desk
A new voting option allowing voters to reject all candidates is creating controversy in India-occupied Kashmir (IHK), with pro-India politicians fearing it could be used by disgruntled Kashmiris to send a clear message about their opposition to Indian rule.
"The provision could be exploited by the separatists in Kashmir as they always try to delegitimize the electoral process in Kashmir," a senior leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Congress Party told Anadolu Agency, requesting anonymity for not being authorized to speak to the media.
In a September ruling, the Indian Supreme Court gave voters the right to reject all candidates standing in any election.
It directed the Election Commission (EC) to provide a NOTA (none of the above) option on electronic voting machines and ballot papers.
The EC, for its part, has instructed the chief electoral officers of all states and union territories to introduce the NOTA option.
This will not have any impact on the results because the candidate with the highest number of cast votes will still win irrespective of the votes polled under NOTA.
But it can be used to send a clear message of how many voters are dissatisfied with the available candidates, or the entire election process.
Fearing NOTA can be used to show how many Kashmiris oppose election under Indian rule, pro-India politicians in the disputed region have already petitioned Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi in Delhi to block the new option in Kashmir.
"We cautioned Sonia Ji that the NOTA option could be used by the secessionist elements to assert their own political position," the senior Jammu and Kashmir Congress party leader told AA.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full.
The two countries have fought three full-fledged wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – since they were partitioned in 1947, two of which were fought over Kashmir.
Since 1989, Kashmiri resistance groups have been fighting against the Indian rule for self-determination.
More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict so far.
Umang Narula, Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir, confirmed that the NOTA option will be introduced during the parliamentary elections just like in all other states.
"For the parliamentary polls, we have been told to implement the provision," Narula told AA.
But the application of the new option in the state Assembly elections has not been decided yet.
"The J&K is governed by a separate Act and I will have to seek the opinion of the EC before saying whether or not it will be there during the Assembly elections," Narula added.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, senior independence leader, believes either case is a win-win situation for pro-independence Kashmiris.
"If the NOTA option is used everywhere in India except Kashmir, it would speak for itself," Farooq told AA.
"And if the option is allowed to Kashmiris where they can reject all the contestants, it could present an interesting option in the context of Kashmiri politics, and separatist politicians should evolve a joint strategy to do something."
In the past, the pro-independence parties in Kashmir including have refrained from taking any part in elections.
They maintained that the elections are within the ambit of the Indian constitution and didn’t include the option to opt out of India, or the option to reject the elections.
But NOTA option has come up as a possibility, which some of them are slowly but cautiously warming to.
Farooq, unlike the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani, has taken a more middle path concerning the upcoming parliamentary and assembly elections this time around.
"Elections are a non-issue for us. Some people may vote here and there for roads or development of jobs, but that has no impact on our struggle for right to self-determination," he insisted.
But even Farooq is cautious about the use and abuse of the NOTA option.
"The use of NOTA is still a premature idea though because we aren’t even sure if it will be allowed in Kashmir," he said.
"And more importantly, we also don’t want to give an idea that Kashmiris are for the process of the elections but only have problem with the contestants," he added.
Geelani, for his part, sees nothing positive in the new voting option.
"NOTA is no option," he told AA.
"These elections have no legitimacy at all and there is no solution for Kashmir within the electoral processes of India," he insisted.
"We want the right to self-determination."Last Mod: 17 Kasım 2013, 17:15