Jammu and Kashmir is scheduled to hold its local body and municipal polls from 8 October. These elections are being held after a gap of 13 years. The panchayat elections are being held after seven years. Yet, instead of enthusiasm for polls, there is a hush over the Valley. It's not hard to guess why.
Just before the announcement of elections, there was a furore over Article 35A. While the Supreme Court deferred the hearing to January 2019, lingering suspicions remain among the locals that attempts are being made ‘behind the scenes' to annul this provision. Which has not only angered the populace, but also forced mainstream parties such as the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party to adopt a cautious approach and boycott the elections. The result? Not much poll-related activity on the ground.
The other reason is the threat of violence from militants. The day the election schedule was announced, unidentified gunmen torched some panchayat offices in south Kashmir. It doesn’t help that militants have already threatened to pour acid on those who participate in the poll process and that posters threatening the death of those suspected taking part in the elections have begun circulating on WhatsApp groups in south Kashmir.
And there are reports that polling officials are hesitant to display the names of candidates outside the panchayat offices—as is the process—in south Kashmir, for fears that the candidates may be targeted. Security forces also have the task of ensuring the safety of the elected representatives. The campaign of violence targeting the elected representatives between 2013 and 2015 shows what a difficult task that is. Taking all this into consideration, voter turnout will probably be abysmal. It may even be in the single digits, given last year's exercise of elections in the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. All of which goes against the principle of free and fair elections.
Let's examine the last time panchayat elections were held: In 2011. After a spate of anti-India agitations and protests, the security situation in the Valley improved considerably by early 2011. This paved the way for the government to hold elections in a relatively secure manner and the Valley witnessed considerable political activity. Voter turnout was at 80 percent, which further demonstrated the willingness of the people to engage politically despite threats from militants and the boycott call from the Hurriyat (which held much more sway over Kashmiris back then).
Taking into account these circumstances, the polls were a resounding success for India, something the government proudly proclaimed on the global stage as a sign of the Kashmiris' unwavering faith in Indian democracy. It also gave India the opportunity to hit back at Pakistan, which has had an iron grip on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
There are reports that the Bharatiya Janata Party has won 71 municipal seats unopposed. The BJP state president Ravinder Raina has, farcically, been pointing to this as a 'historic victory'. The government, through its insistence to demonstrate that 'normalcy' has returned to the Valley, has scored a self-goal.
Poor turnout will tarnish India's image and the poll-related violence will further burden our security forces and exacerbate the alienation of Kashmiris. The preferred course would have been to wait out winter and test the waters by holding elections for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat. Alas, that is no longer an option.
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Updated Date: Oct 06, 2018 16:51:12 IST