Boycott by major parties, minimal campaigning and violence cast a shadow over ULB polls
By Sheikh Suhail
Srinagar: The local body elections in Jammu and Kashmir begin Monday but threats, violence and boycott by the state's two main parties – the NC and the PDP – have cast a shadow over the polls, making it seemingly the most low-profile electoral exercise in the history of the state.
While there has been no poll rally, nor any campaigning or even door-to-door canvassing in most parts of the Valley, there seems to be a veil of secrecy over the entire process with the names of candidates contesting the polls and even their political affiliations not being disclosed.
Two main parties – the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – along with CPI(M) have stayed away from the polls due to the legal challenge to Article 35-A of the Constitution in the Supreme Court.
The two regional parties have asked the Centre to make its stand clear in the apex court on the constitutional provision and urged it to defend the article's continuation.
While separatists have called for a boycott of the polls, militants have threatened to target persons taking part in these elections.
The boycott by two mainstream political parties and the calls of boycott by the separatists along with the threats and recent violence have led to absolutely minimal campaigning for the four-phased local bodies' polls.
A police official said the prevailing situation in Kashmir does not allow the candidates to campaign openly as there is a threat to their lives.
"The candidates have been given security and most of them have been taken to secure locations, but the situation is such they cannot campaign. The threat is not only from militants, but from mobs as well," the official said.
He said the identity and other details of most of the candidates have been kept a "closely guarded secret".
"The situation is such that the identity of most of the candidates cannot be revealed. There is a huge threat perception and we do not want to endanger lives,” he said.
The official said though elaborate security arrangements have been put in place to ensure smooth, free and fair polls, providing security to each and every candidate was "out of the question".
"While the Centre has provided additional 400 companies of central paramilitary forces to secure the election process, security cannot be provided to such a large of number of candidates. It is out of the question. We are doing our best to provide a secure environment to ensure the polls are smooth, free and fair,” he said.
One of the candidates contesting from central Kashmir's Ganderbal district, said moving without security was "very risky".
"I cannot go to the people to seek votes without some security as it is very risky. You never know what will happen. Due to the atmosphere here everything is taking place stealthily,” the candidate, who did not wish to be identified, said.
Many contestants have withdrawn from the process because of the threat to their lives, he said.
Political parties are wary of stepping out in the open for campaigning and that is perhaps the reason why there has been no political rally or a related event so far here, he said.
"You know how the situation is. How is it possible for our candidates to campaign? Just Friday two workers of a political party were killed in broad daylight. In such a situation, where there is no sense of security, how can we go out to seek votes," a senior Congress leader said.
He said the atmosphere was not conducive for the polls in the state, but the Centre had "forced" the elections on the people.
"This is the most low-profile election ever in the history of the state. We have not seen anything like this. The atmosphere is not conducive for the polls, but it was thrust on us by the Centre," he said.
The Congress leader said the secrecy maintained by the administration over the whole process has also cast a shadow over the exercise.
"The candidates cannot go out to campaign, the people do not know who their candidates are, the government is not informing them about anything. Then there was boycott by two main parties plus threat being issued, all this has cast a shadow over the elections,” he said.
Umer Ahmad, a resident of Safakadal area in the city here, said many were not even aware when their wards were going to polls.
In the first phase on Monday, elections are to be held in 422 wards in 30 municipal bodies spanning 12 districts of the state.
Out of these 422, there will be no contest in 78 wards – 69 in Kashmir and nine in Jammu -- as there candidates have won unopposed.
"For this phase, 1,473 nominations were filed, and after scrutiny 1,441 nominations were declared valid. Subsequently, there were some withdrawals and 1,283 contestants are now in the fray for polls in the first phase,” state's Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shaleen Kabra said.
He said the first phase, for which campaigning ended Saturday, includes elections to three wards of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC).
"For these three wards of SMC, eleven nominations were received, out of which eight were found valid after scrutiny and there was no withdrawal,” he said.
In Srinagar, there are a total of 6,63,775 electors in all the wards, officials said.
They said all the 843 polling booths in the district have been designated as "hypersensitive".
A total of 16,97,291 electors are eligible to cast their votes in the polls for 1,145 wards across the state. (PTI)
Kashmir Images is an English language daily newspaper published from Srinagar (J&K), India. The newspaper is one of the largest circulated English dailies of Kashmir and its hard copies reach every nook and corner of Kashmir Valley besides Jammu and Ladakh region.