Editor's Note: This article was originally published on 9 October, 2019. In a first democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir since the Centre's 5 August decision to revoke special status under Article 370, elections to Block Development Councils (BDC) (the second tier in the Panchayati Raj system), will be held on Thursday. Reportedly, over 26,000 panchs and sarpanchs from across the state — elected in November-December in 2018 — will cast their votes in their respective blocks to elect the BDC chairpersons. Any panch or sarpanch can stand for the post of block chairperson. This article is being replugged in view of the fact that the state is holding its first democratic exercise since its special status was revoked.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is looking to widen its base in Kashmir after fielding its candidates on most of the block developmental council (BDC) election seats amid Centre-imposed detention of the political leaders from other Kashmir-based parties like the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC).
The BJP has fielded candidates on 122 constituencies in Kashmir, said its spokesperson Brigadier (retired) Anil Gupta, adding that the party is also supporting 29 Independents for elections to the office of the chairpersons of BDCs. He said that the party is contesting on a total of 280 seats out of 316 seats on its own in the state.
The BJP has fielded the candidates on nearly all seats amid the detention of local political leaders including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, and Farooq Abdullah. While Farooq, who is also NC president, is under house arrest; Omar and PDP chief Mehbooba have been lodged at government rest houses in Srinagar. A large number of political leaders from Congress are also under detention due to which the party has decided to boycott the elections.
Former minister and People's Conference leader Sajad Lone and Jammu and Kashmir People's Movement leader Shah Faesal are also under detention at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Convocation Centre (SKICC) since 5 August, when BJP-led Centre decided to scrap Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that allows now the non-residents to buy land and property in the state.
As per a notification issued earlier by the office of chief electoral officer, the elections will be held on the 24 October between 9 am to 1 pm and the counting of the votes will also be held on the same day. The sarpanchs and panchs will vote for the elections to elect the BDC chairmen.
Authorities earlier had said that the elections will be held on 309 BDC constituencies, while elections on seven other seats won't be conducted due to the resignation of sarpanchs and panchs and vacancies in these blocks due to partial boycott in the polls held in November 2018.
Congress chief spokesperson Ravinder Sharma said that the party has decided to boycott the elections due to the detention of most of its leaders in Kashmir. He said that those who had filed nominations for the elections earlier will withdraw from the elections. "The Congress believes in strengthening of democratic institutions and never shied away from any polls. But today, we are compelled to take a decision to boycott BDC polls due to indifferent attitude of the state administration and continued detention of senior party leaders in the valley," Jammu and Kashmir Congress president GA Mir told reporters.
With the Congress officially backing out of the elections, it is being largely seen by the BJP "as an opportunity" to widen its base. Gupta said that the party was hoping that the Congress will contest the polls. "The Congress party has chosen to side with the Separatists by deciding to boycott the elections," he said. On most of the seats in Kashmir the BJP won't face any competition.
The BDC elections in 2018 were held on non-party basis, while the BDC elections are being conducted on party mandates. This is also being seen by the rival parties of the BJP as a move to retain seats uncontested. Chief Electoral Officer Shailendra Kumar said that the elections were held on party basis this time unlike 2018 which were held on non-party basis to ensure better participation in the elections. The authorities, however, also said that the elections will help " strengthen" the grass roots " democracy" in the state.
Deputy Commissioner of Kupwara Anshul Garg said that the "BDC elections will help strengthen the democratic institutions in the state."
"The BDC chairman will help spur the development in a particular block and besides finalising the developmental budgets, they will also become the members of the district planning boards thereby help in strengthening the grass roots developmental institutions," he said.
The elections are being held even as Kashmir has witnessed unrelenting shutdown of the shops and business establishments while the public transport remains off the roads since 5 August. Former Minister and Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party leader Harsh Dev Singh said that the party couldn't field the candidates due to the curbs on their movement. "We are contesting on only 15-20 seats and couldn't give the tickets to the candidates in Srinagar due to the curbs on our movement. We were only released few days back after 58 days of detention," he said.
Chairman of All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference Shafiq Mir, however, said that the organisation has decided to field Independent candidates on BDC constituencies. He said that the party is contesting on a large number of seats from its cadre of over 300 sarpanchs and panchs, who are associated with it, "to strengthen grassroot level institutions in the state."
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Updated Date: Oct 24, 2019 06:13:08 IST