The Election Commission said on Monday that it has no obligation to consult the Union home ministry before holding elections, responding to an accusation of ignoring an advice to postpone bypolls in Jammu and Kashmir this April.
The war of words broke out after violence engulfed Sunday’s by-elections to the Srinagar parliamentary constituency.
Srinagar recorded 7.14% polling, the lowest in three decades, and eight people were killed and scores were wounded in clashes with security forces. Mobs threw stones and petrol bombs as they tried to impose a separatist call to boycott the bypolls in the state, where the situation has been volatile since last summer’s massive public unrest.
Home ministry sources said the poll panel ignored its advice to postpone by-elections in Srinagar and Anantnag, where voting was slated for April 12. The voting was deferred to May 25 after the violence in Srinagar.
Election Commission (EC) officials were quick to response, saying they were not bound to consult the home ministry to hold elections. The ministry’s brief is limited to providing central forces, they said.
“It was a constitutional obligation to hold the Srinagar by-poll, which was due before April 16. The state government was consulted as it is responsible for law and order and security issues,” an EC source said.
“The state government said the preparation for free, fair and peaceful elections are being made and a comprehensive deployment plan was also worked out by Jammu and Kashmir police. They also upgraded the security of political leaders and candidates.”
But home ministry officials countered that the atmosphere in the Valley was not conducive for bypolls.
The ministry would have preferred the bypolls after the panchayat elections, which could have got the electoral process rolling in the state.
After the EC announced the bypolls in March, the ministry warned that Pakistan-sponsored elements may disrupt the process.
The poll panel officials countered that the commission assesses the prevailing situation for holding elections.
“In the assessment of the EC, if prevailing conditions were conducive for holding of panchayat elections by the state government, then holding of parliamentary elections is also possible,” one of the officials said.
However, the home ministry officials were not convinced with the commission’s response.
They said the ministry was asked to provide 300 companies — around 3,000 personnel — of paramilitary forces for the bypolls, instead of the “10 to 12 companies” which is the norm.
By seeking such a large number of security personnel, the poll panel confirmed the ministry’s fears of disruption during the bypolls, they argued.
When asked if the poll panel had erred, a former CEC told HT finalising poll dates are a long-drawn process.
“It is an elaborate process … Situation on the ground has to be peaceful, there should be no threat to candidates or to voters,” former chief election commissioner HS Brahma said.