More than 260 public figures on Tuesday appealed to President Ram Nath Kovind to urge authorities in Jammu and Kashmir to postpone the Block Development Council elections till the situation in the state normalises.
The local council elections are scheduled to be held October 24. Votes will be counted the same day.
Some of the prominent people who signed a letter are professors Ayesha Kidwai, Jayati Ghosh, Jean Dreze and Nandini Sundar, human rights activists Bezwada Wilson and Harsh Mander, and journalists P Sainath and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.
“For democracy to be meaningful, it is imperative that elections are conducted in an atmosphere free of fear and intimidation, so that citizens can vote without fear, for candidates of their choice,” read the letter. “Given the unprecedented socio-political situation in Jammu and Kashmir, those conditions do not exist today.”
The signatories said faith in the electoral process will erode if elections are held are under prevailing circumstances. “It is especially shocking that these elections are being conducted when most leaders and workers of the mainstream political parties, ranging from the Indian National Congress, the People’s Democratic Party, the National Conference, the J&K People’s Movement, the Awami Ittehad Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have been under arrest or in detention since August 5, 2019.”
The letter said the ground for free and fair election does not exist since the leaders of mainstream political parties are still in detention. The signatories also pointed to the communication restrictions between leaders and workers of political parties. The current situation had undermined “everything India stands for”, and would damage its reputation as a democracy, they added.
“It is especially shocking that the EC, which was once hailed as a paragon of fairness and autonomy, is even considering conducting any kind of elections when only one party is contesting, and conditions are so antithetical to conducting fair elections,” the letter said.
The signatories highlighted the fact-finding reports about the alarming situation in the region. “From the six or seven odd reports that have been submitted by independent teams of observers who have visited the state, it is clear that there is a general feeling of unrest in the state regarding the undemocratic manner in which the situation has been handled,” they said.
The public figures urged President Kovind “to uphold the Constitution, and urge the concerned authorities to revisit this undemocratic decision”.
Several mainstream political leaders – such as former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah, and Kashmiri bureaucrat-turned-politician Shah Faesal – were taken into custody or put under house arrest after the crackdown in August. Jammu and Kashmir National Conference President Farooq Abdullah was booked under the “public order” section of the Public Safety Act, which allows one to be detained for six months without trial.
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