Hurriyat Hails, NC-Cong Opposes; Debate Rages On NOTA Option

SRINAGAR: With the Mirwaiz led Hurriyat Conference terming the inclusion of  ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) option  in electronic voting machines (EVM) a positive development the issue has generated debate in Kashmir with majority of mainstream parties fearing rejection opposing it tooth and nail. 

The Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) have taken up the ‘negative’ implications of ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option at the highest level in Government of India and the Congress high command respectively. 

Both the parties have vehemently argued before the government of India and the Congress high command that the NOTA option in EVMs can be misused by the separatist leadership in Jammu and Kashmir who according to the political mainstream here are hell-bent to undermine the importance of electoral process.

A senior Congress leader pleading anonymity told KNS that the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has already taken up the issue at the highest level in government of India urging for the remedial measures. “The Chief Minister has also expressed serious concern while taking up the issue with the Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in Delhi,” the Congress leader told KNS.

These sources revealed, that the senior PCC leadership in a formal meeting raised the issue with Rahul Gandhi the Congress vice president who was in Srinagar. “Rahul Ji assured us that the issue will be thoroughly examined by the Congress high command and a decision in this regard will be take accordingly,” a senior Congress minister who met Gandhi said.

In this backdrop, the PCC leadership is said to have shot a number of communiqués to the Congress high command in Delhi emphasizing the need to go for review of the Supreme Court judgment in context of the ‘peculiar situation’ in Jammu and Kashmir. In its judgment, the Apex Court had directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to introduce NOTA button on EVMs so that the voters have an option available to reject their votes.

There is almost a consensus among political mainstream in the state that there should be no NOTA button in EVMs in Jammu and Kashmir keeping in view the separatists’ election boycott calls, sources in the Pradesh Congress Committee said. 

Senior Congress leader and minister Taj Mohiudin told a gathering in Jammu today, that the Centre should move the Supreme Court to prevent the implementation of NOTA in  Jammu and Kashmir.

Taj, who is a Congress MLA from Uri constituency of Baramulla district, said, “I have written a letter to the Prime Minister and the Congress high command that the option of NOTA should not be applicable in Jammu and Kashmir, as it would be used by separatists in anti-election campaign.”

When asked to elaborate on ‘negative implications’ of NOTA option in Kashmir, another senior Congress leader said: “For example tomorrow if separatists urge people to participate in elections and press NOTA button then it will be deemed as a referendum. This is how this option can be misconstrued and misused.”

The NOTA option assumes significance in Jammu and Kashmir as the separatists have been asking people to boycott the electoral process at every level for the last two decades. In order to ensure minimum participation in elections, they have been running election boycott campaigns also.

On the forefront of the election boycott strategy, is Syed Ali Geelani, the Hurriyat Conference (G) chairman who was freed from house confinement few days ago. Geelani commenced his election boycott campaign from Sopore where he addressed a gathering urging them to boycott the forthcoming polls completely. He believes that participation in elections is to ‘betray the freedom movement and a move to legitimize’ what he calls “Indian occupation in Jammu and Kashmir”.

Mirwaiz Umar Forooq, the chairman of Hurriat (M) has termed the option ‘interesting opportunity ’ for the pro-freedom camp. He has said: “I think the Right to Reject merits a serious consideration. We need to deliberate on it. If people have the choice to reject contesting candidates, it gives the people of Kashmir a chance to tell the world where we stand.”

Syed Ali Geelani’s Huriyat Conference however s adamant on poll boycott in traditional way and says the NOTA option would be a ‘good step’ for other places and that in Kashmir it has no relevance. “Kashmir is an International dispute, people should totally boycott the polls, no other option is acceptable,” said Huriyat G spokesman Ayaz Akbar. 

Echoing Akbar’s stance, the chief spokesman of PDP Nayeem Akhtar said that the  option could be a good step for the places where democracy has already flourished. “Our main concern is the public opinion, the option can be welcomed in other states where the people have enjoyed democracy, in Jammu and Kashmir the process has been subverted from 1947.” Akhtar further stated that the democracy in the state is itself in the ‘infant stage ‘ and that the party is more concerned for the conduction of ‘free and fair’ elections in the state. He said that the introduction of NOTA is not a ‘big’ issue for PDP.

Pertinently, on September 27, this year the Supreme Court directed the ECI to introduce NOTA button option in EVMs and on the ballot papers in order to allow the voters to exercise their right to reject option for undeserving candidates in the elections. 

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