Jammu and Kashmir local body polls, Part V: Boycott by NC, PDP opens up field for BJP, independents
As the countdown to elections to ULBs and panchayats begins, the electoral process in the Kashmir Valley is throwing up surprises with each passing day.
Editor's note: With municipal and panchayat elections round the corner in Jammu and Kashmir, Firstpost will run a series of ground reports on different aspects of the polls, as well as the state of panchayati raj institutions and how they can empower democracy at the grassroots. The series will also look into the state of security arrangements, as voters and candidates face threats of attacks by militants. Read part I, part II, part III, part IV and part VI of the series here.
Baramulla: As the countdown to elections to urban local bodies (ULB) and panchayats begins, the electoral process in the Kashmir Valley is throwing up surprises with each passing day. While some candidates of the BJP have been elected uncontested from municipal committees in south Kashmir, a ‘youth activist’ has plunged into the electoral fray along with two family members in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
Baramulla district has two councils, 88 wards and 91,632 voters. The councils will go to the polls on 8 October.
Touseef Raina, along with his mother, Fareeda Begum, and brother Shahid ul Islam, are fighting the urban local body elections for the Baramulla municipal committee. After the previous urban local body polls, two sitting councillors of the municipal committee were killed by militants for having participated in the polls.
On Friday, Raina, 27, sat along with a group of young boys in a room of a government quarter in Rangwar area of Baramulla to discuss his poll strategy. Decorative balloons hung from the walls. A day earlier, it was Raina’s birthday. The state government gave him official accommodation near a garrison of the Indian Army, which was like a birthday gift for him.
The young man, who had once interviewed Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin in Pakistan as a cub reporter, is mindful of the dangers involved in fighting urban local body elections. He said he believes in strengthening the concept of grassroots democracy and empowering people.
“I am telling people that those who get elected should be held accountable. My basic focus is strengthening the essence of democracy at the grassroots level,” Raina said with an uneasy smile on his face.
Asked why his mother and brother plunged into the fray, he said that many people approached him seeking to become part of his group, but he refused, saying that he could only take care of people who are his family members and some of his friends in case the situation turns ugly. Along with his two family members and three friends, Raina is fighting the election as an independent candidate.
“Such is the level of the threat that I thought I could only secure people whom I could accommodate with me if the situation turns bad,” Raina said. The biggest issue, he says, is the development of the town and the banks of the Jhelum river, which passes through Baramulla, “The river bank is filthy, which makes me sad,” he remarked.
Raina, a resident of Sangri Colony in Barmaulla town, graduated in journalism in 2014. After a brief stint in journalism, he started the Global Youth Foundation, which he says fights against injustice and for the underprivileged.
Raina says that the young generation of Kashmir faces issues which should not be clubbed with the conflict in the region. “For example, the Kashmiri sentiment is with Article 35A and 370, but hartals and bloodshed have given us nothing. Our leaders need to change their strategy. Every day, our youth are being killed.”
The decision of the two biggest political parties, National Conference and PDP, to boycott the polls has opened up the electoral field for many new faces, including the BJP. It is for the first time that the saffron party has won an election uncontested in the Kashmir Valley. The boycott by regional parties has turned the tide in favour of the BJP, which has fielded candidates from almost every constituency.
Five BJP candidates were declared elected in the absence of any opponent in the municipal elections from the volatile region of south Kashmir. According to BJP leaders, the party's candidates won uncontested two seats of Achabal, two seats of Kulgam and one seat of Devsar municipal committees. With the region reeling under protests and militants threatening to carry out attacks on those who participate in the elections, no other party or independent candidate had filed nomination papers from these wards.
The state BJP president Ravinder Raina said the BJP is committed to fighting elections from each and every ward and constituency in Kashmir, “We are hopeful that people will come out and cast their vote. This will help in strengthening grassroots democracy, and people will cherish the fruits of development,” he said.
However, the regional parties, who have boycotted the polls, are crying foul, “In absence of the two main political parties, these elections are nothing but a fraud that is being played on the people of Kashmir in the name of democracy,” National Conference leader Nasir Aslam Wani said.
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