Opposition members press for early Assembly polls in J&K; govt says it is ready, EC to take call

NEW DELHI: Opposition members in the Lok Sabha sought a timeline from the government on Tuesday for holding Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir, with the Centre asserting that it is ready and it is up to the Election Commission (EC) to take a decision in the matter.

The Union Territory is under central rule since 2018.

While Home Minister Amit Shah will respond to the debate on the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill and the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, taken up together, on Wednesday, he intervened in the discussion and asserted that the Modi government has ensured that the country has only one flag and one Constitution.

The two bills were introduced in the Lower House on July 26.

Responding to a remark by TMC's Saugata Roy that "ek nishan, ek pradhan, ek samvidhan (one flag, one head, one Constitution)" was a "political slogan", Shah wondered how can a country have two prime ministers, two constitutions and two flags.

He said the Trinamool Congress leader's remarks were "objectionable".

Responding to a remark from the opposition benches, Shah said, "Whosoever did it was wrong. Narendra Modi has corrected it. Your approval or disagreement does not matter. The entire country wanted it." This comment was made in an apparent reference to the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution in Jammu and Kashmir.

Initiating a debate on the two bills, Amar Singh of the Congress asked the government about its plans on holding polls in the Union Territory.

Singh said Shah should assert that the election will be held, with security forces ready to deal with any situation.

He said while a provision is being made to provide reservation for two members from the community of "Kashmiri Migrants" and one from the "Displaced Persons from Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir" to the legislative assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, a representative from the Punjabi community from Jammu should also be provided and that person need not necessarily be a Sikh.

Union minister Jitendra Singh said "whenever the EC announces it (election in Jammu and Kashmir), we are ready".

He said the Congress should be grateful to Prime Minister Modi for the abrogation of Article 370 that gave a special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah wanted to know from the Centre why the polls are not being held in the Union Territory.

Jugal Kishore Sharma of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who represents Jammu in the Lok Sabha, said the bill to change the nomenclature of "weak and underprivileged classes" to "Other Backward Classes" in Jammu and Kashmir will benefit people in getting reservation in other parts of the country for the first time.

Roy said the government should announce a time-frame for holding the election.

He claimed that the abrogation of Article 370 has brought no change in the lives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. He said this was the first time that a state was converted into a Union Territory.

Roy also said the people of Jammu and Kashmir and not the lieutenant governor should rule the Union Territory.

His remarks on the LG drew protests from the BJP members.

Union minister Anurag Thakur said things have changed in Jammu and Kashmir and there are no cases of stone-pelting in the Union Territory now. He said the tricolour is now hoisted in every street of Jammu and Kashmir but earlier, when the NC was in power, BJP leaders were arrested for trying to hoist the flag there.

Thakur said it is sad when security personnel are killed, but the opposition should not forget that 45,000 people died in Jammu and Kashmir during the 70 years of their regime.

Announcing the poll schedule for five states on October 9, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar said the election in Jammu and Kashmir will be held when the commission deems it the "right time", keeping in mind the security situation and other polls being held in the Union Territory.

One of the two bills seeks to nominate not more than two members, one of whom shall be a woman, from the community of "Kashmiri Migrants" and one member from the "Displaced Persons from Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir" to the legislative assembly of the Union Territory.

The other seeks to change the nomenclature of "weak and underprivileged classes" to "Other Backward Classes" in Jammu and Kashmir.

Congress leader Manish Tewari also sought to know about the election and when statehood would be restored in Jammu and Kashmir.

He wondered that when the treasury benches are claiming that normalcy has been restored in Jammu and Kashmir, why elections are not being held.

Tewari further said constitutional proprietary demands that the government should refrain from coming up with these legislations as a matter related to the abrogation of Article 370 is pending in the Supreme Court.

Jamyang Tsering Namgyal (BJP) said peace in Jammu and Kashmir is "more important" than elections.

A M Ariff of the CPI(M) claimed that these bills are nothing but an attempt by the Centre to keep the Kashmir issue alive ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) asked the government as to when will the election happen. "The 2024 election you will conduct.... You will not even win in Jammu, let alone Kashmir," he said.

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