Re-polling will be held for two district development council seats in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday after it was found that Pakistani nationals had contested. The polls had been held two years ago.
Drugmulla in Kupwara district and Hajin in Banidpora district are reserved for women. In both seats, two Pakistani nationals managed to contest the DDC election in December 2020.
But hours before the results were to be declared, complaints about the disputed nationality of Somia Sadaf and Shazia Begum forced election authorities to withhold poll results.
After a probe, the state Election Commission declared the elections null and void. Both women were found to be residents of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). They had married two former militants and illegally entered Kashmir with their spouses as part of the government's rehabilitation policy for surrendered militants in 2010.
Around 350 Pakistani women have married Kashmiri men. These Kashmiri Indian men had crossed the Line of Control in the early 1990s for arms training in PoK to join terrorism. But after reaching there, they had a change of heart and decided to not become terrorists. Some of them then got married to Pakistani women there.
After the government announced the rehabilitation policy, these men along with their families escaped from PoK and entered India via Nepal.
But after reaching Kashmir, the women are facing an identity crisis.
As per the rules, they entered India illegally. Instead of entering Kashmir via designated border points at the Line of Control (LOC), they entered from Nepal.
During questioning by security agencies, these men had said that they chose the Nepal route to
escape the Pakistan army and their agencies who would have never allowed them to cross LOC for surrender.
Officials say that after deleting the names of Somia Sadaf and Shazia Begum, 10 candidates are now in the fray in the Drugmulla seat and five candidates in the Hajin DDC seat.
Interestingly, some of the candidates have changed their party loyalties in the last two years but their poll symbol remains unchanged.
This has created a strange situation. On the Drugmulla seat, the candidate who was a part of Mehbooba Mufti's Party PDP has now joined Sajad Lone's People's Conference. PDP's election symbol is an ink pot and pen. So now, it's the People's Conference that is seeking votes on the PDP symbol, while the PDP is forced to convince people to vote against it.
Both parties say they requested election authorities to change the symbol of candidates. But the state election commission rejected it on grounds that the last date for withdrawal of nominations was on November 23, 2020.
It has also confused voters. A senior People's Conference leader said he's finding it hard to explain to his supporters why they should vote for the PDP symbol.
Elections for district development Councils (DDC) were the first move by the Centre to revive the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir after the revocation of its special status and statehood.
J&K is without an elected government for the last four and half years and there is no indication when assembly elections will be held. The Opposition blames BJP for subverting democracy in J&K and denying people their right to elect a government.
For people in Drugmulla and Hajin, it's the second time they are voting for DDC elections in two years. Ironically, in December 2020, they were confused about the nationality of the candidates. Today, both voters and parties are confused about symbols.