The upcoming polls in the strife-torn state of Jammu and Kashmir seemed to have run into rough weather with National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) announcing to boycott the crucial urban body elections and panchayat polls.
Both parties have cited protection of Article 35A as the reason for boycotting the polls. BJP general secretary and J&K in-charge of the party Ram Madhav appealed to both NC and PDP to rethink about the panchayat poll boycott, this is unlikely to have any impact on the widely announced decision. Highly placed sources in Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the centre is firm on going ahead with the elections despite huge security constraints. Top level sources said that panchayat polls, which were last held in 2011, were already delayed by two years.
Kashmir Post has learnt that the then Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was keen to go ahead with civic body and panchayat polls in 2016.
Municipal Polls To Be Conducted After 13 Years
The municipal polls are being conducted after a gap of 13 years, the last elections were held in 2005, while the panchayats’ five-year expired in June 2016. Untimely demise of former CM Mufti Sayeed on January 7, 2016 and unduly delay in new government formation eventually led by his daughter Mehbooba Mufti pushed the election dates. In July 2016, killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani plunged Kashmir valley into widespread unrest and street violence claiming close to 90 lives and injuries to hundreds. The situation remained turbulent in 2017 with security forces finally reigning over terrorist by end of the year with the much successfully touted Operation all out. Once again, Centre was keen to go ahead with elections in April-March, this year, but PDP desisted.
PDP leader Wahid Para told Kashmir Post, “Yes, it is true, the Centre was keen to have elections earlier this year but the party did not agree as we were looking at Amarnath yatra and the tourist season. While the valley faced violent protests, we wanted to break the cycle of violence.”
Sources said that with new Governor Satyapal Malik now in place, they are backing the decision to hold elections in the state. Centre has limited window to conduct elections from March to November. With the first half of the year gone, Centre is keen that the process seen imperative to grass-root democracy should be conducted. While even the officials believe that the state parties have made Article 35-A as an agenda, Home Ministry sources said, “It is a well known fact that Centre did not file an affidavit in the hearing of Article 35A leaving the matter up to the apex court to decide the fate of the contentious article.”
Security A Biggest Challenge
Sources, however, believe that security to candidates and voters in Kashmir Valley during the poll remains the biggest challenge. While the Centre and the security grid admit that the militancy-prone areas in South Kashmir may see low to nil voter turnout, but do not rule out voting in other areas.
Terror organisations who have issued warning to those willing to contest polls as party candidates being a huge concern, the Centre has already deployed around 237 companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF).
There are 40,000 seats for panchayat polls. With over a lakh candidate in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh region, the state election commission, along with the state, will have a Herculean task of providing security, particularly in Kashmir valley. There are 2500 polling stations and 1145 wards in the state for which the state has already chalked down security preparation for individuals polling stations and wards.
Meanwhile, threats from several terror groups remain the biggest concern.
Speaking to reporters in Srinagar, Ram Madhav said, “Militants have been trying to deprive Kashmiris of their democratic rights since long. They will try to disrupt upcoming panchayat polls.”
The recent abduction and release of nearly a dozen policemen’s kin in South Kashmir has also put the state police in tight spot. With militants putting pressure on special police officers, there are reports of as many as 15 of them resigning in different parts of Kashmir.
The video of SPO’s resigning under pressure in South Kashmir going viral over social media looking at counter mechanism to deal with the current set of threats. Officials in Centre say that the resignation of handful is not a setback. Amidst 36,484 SPOs, currently on honorarium of Rs 6000 in the state, the number of SPOs resigning are miniscule. Officials in the state though admit, if there are more resignation, then it could be worrying. But the need to uphold grassroot democratic process is heavily tilted in favour of local body polls and panchayat polls over security concern, a senior officer, said.