BJP Lotus to bloom in Kashmir?
Srinagar: It is a ghost election with secret candidates and invisible voters. Even before tomorrow’s first phase of polling for Urban Local Bodies, the BJP has already got seven municipal committees in the Kashmir Valley. The party says its 75 nominees have been elected unopposed. 60 percent of 600 municipal wards in 10 districts of the Valley have either a single candidate getting elected unopposed or they remain vacant in the absence of any candidate at all.
The civic elections are being boycotted by the National Conference and PDP, the two regional parties who have all along ruled the state, who say the center is being duplicitous about its stand on the special status promised to J&K. The BJP’s opponent is the Congress, but this party has failed to persuade members to run as candidates in most areas of the Valley. So the elections are largely about the BJP and independent candidates who are largely friendly to it.
This is the first election in India where people don’t know who their candidates are. Election authorities have kept the names of candidates a secret. Publishing details of contesting candidates is mandatory but in the name of security, the state’s Election Commission has done away with it. The website has only the number of candidates who remain faceless.
There are no flags or banners of any party including BJP which is likely to capture most of the municipal committees. No party or candidate has held even a single public meeting to ask people to vote.
The only thing remarkably visible is the overwhelming security being used to conduct these polls. An additional 400 companies (40,000 personnel) of central paramilitary forces have been brought in to assist the existing security set-up in Kashmir. We already have a permanent presence of 60 battalions of the CRPF, an equal number of Rashtriya Rifles units. BSF, ITBP, SSB and over 1 lakh of J&K police force. The only challenge is will the number of votes cross even the half of a number of security personnel deployed for poll duty.
Finding candidates was a huge task for the state government after it announced the civic polls. Some officers are believed to have managed an otherwise impossible task. The government rolled out SOPs including an insurance cover of Rs. 10 lakh for all candidates participating in elections. Government employees who are normally bound to perform election duties are also given an extra month’s salary to attend to poll duty. In this election, everything has a price tag.
Barring a few exceptions, all candidates are hiding and continue to remain faceless. Officials say candidates have been kept in highly-guarded accommodation in Srinagar. The BJP’s only candidate willing to speak on camera is a former militant of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen- Saifullah Farooq from downtown Srinagar. He returned from Pakistan in 2011 as part of the previous government’s rehabilitation policy.