Holding Panchayat Poll in JK can be tricky!

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By: Tariq Gull

The state Government announced Panchayat polls in the state of Jammu and Kashmir amid the recent flare up in situation in the valley and it seems like an ill-timed decision. The last electoral exercise that was held in J&K had turned out to be a bloody affair- at least eight civilians were killed in clashes during the by-polls to the Srinagar-Budgam Lok Sabah seat in April 2017 and only 6.5% polling was recorded.

This eventually forced the than Mehbooba Mufti led government to cancel the elections to the Anantnang constituency. It was a time when Kashmir valley was simmering with rage and anger stemming from the several month long bloodbath during which close to 100 civilians were killed and several others were injured, some of them losing their eye sight to the pellet guns.

To put the facts together, the Panchayat elections have had a strange history in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.  In 1978, rural body elections were held in the state when Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was the chief minister. The next such exercise was conducted after 23 years, in 2001, and the next Panchayat election was held a decade after in 2011.  Panchayat Elections for 4,130 Sarpanchs and 29,719 Panchs in Jammu and Kashmir were last held in 2011 after a huge gap when a record 80% people voted despite the 2010 unrest, in which more than 120 civilians were killed.

Given the current dynamics of the ground situation, particularly in the valley which is again witnessing huge increase in violence related incidents, the decision of holding these elections is fraught with danger and could lead to further deterioration of the situation. The south Kashmir has been nearly a no-go zone and one can imagine that if elections are held at this point in time, there will be no or adverse response to it.

Be it the mainstream party like National Conference, or the separatist camp, most of the political opinions in Kashmir stands against the decision of holding Panchayat elections at this juncture.  Separatist leaders have called for its complete boycott saying “such an exercise was only meant to harm national interests of Kashmir.” “We cannot vote to strengthening the hands of tyrants … elections and institutions formed for these elections are detrimental to the interests of Kashmiris and as a living nation we all should keep away from this farce exercise and boycott these elections totally,” a statement issued by the separatist leadership said.

The boycott call by separatists isn`t the only challenge the government faces in holding elections here as the militant organization- Hizbul Mujahedeen- has purportedly threatened to “pour acid” into the eyes of those who participate in elections.

However, given all these ground realities, there has been no communication from the government side about deferment of the elections. The municipal polls will be conducted in four phases and polling will be held between October 1 and 5. Panchayat elections will be conducted in eight phases between November 8 and December 4.

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