'These elections are a sham': Kashmiris remain aloof, unaware of candidates even on eve of 2nd phase of polls
Some residents have decided to boycott the local body elections in Jammu and Kashmir, joining the protest by parties against the Centre's move on Article 35A.
No posters, no banners, no campaigns. In Kashmir, authorities are geared up for the second phase of the civic polls on Wednesday, but residents continue to be indifferent even a day before the elections.
A vegetable vendor in Srinagar's Shaheed Gunj area has no idea whether there are any candidates contesting the election from this ward of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation. When questioned, he got livid and didn't want to talk about the polls.
A 42-year-old handicraft salesman, Inayat Ahmad also doesn't know whether there are any candidates contesting from his ward. The Srinagar resident also doesn't want to vote in the elections in protest against the "continuous bloodshed in Kashmir". "How can we take part in the polls when the bloodshed continues unabated?’" he asked, adding the the elections had affected his business, too, and was "not doing us any good".
Furqan Muzafar, a 23-year-old who runs a ready-made garment shop in Srinagar's Basant Bagh area, said he was boycotting the polls as he want "to see Kashmir free". "These elections are a sham. There is no point in taking part in the polls when atrocities by government forces continue," he said.
Cancelled polls, candidates elected unopposed
Besides elections to 19 wards of Srinagar district, the polls will be held from 6 am to 4 pm in the northern districts of Kupwara, Bandipora and Baramulla as well as in the volatile southern parts of Kulgam and Anantnag.
Moreover, even though elections were scheduled for 39 municipal bodies in Budgam, officials said polling was cancelled as there were either no contests in a number of wards, or political parties did not field any candidates. Additional Deputy Commissioner (Budgam) Khurshid Ahmad said that out of the 39 wards, no nominations were filed in 20 wards, while candidates in 19 other wards were elected unopposed.
In Anantnag, 14 candidates were elected unopposed, three won uncontested from Kulgam, 15 in Baramulla, and nine in Kupwara. In the 13 municipal committee wards of Frisal in Kulgam, no candidate filed their nomination papers.
Officials admitted that "holding the elections didn't make any sense" when people were unaware of even the names of the candidates contesting from their wards. A senior official in the District Election Office of Srinagar said, "The candidates have told us that their names shouldn't be shared with the people."
The Station House Officer of Shaheedgunj Police Station said that the list of candidates contesting the polls was not shared "due to the precarious security scenario" in the region. "A total of six polling stations have been set up for the polls here," the officer added.
MLA from Langate and president of the Awami Ittehad Party, Engineer Rashid said elections were scheduled in his region on Wednesday, "but people don’t know who are contesting". Candidates were elected unopposed in nine of the 13 wards in Kupwara's Langate municipality where the polls were scheduled. "There are no candidates in two wards, and the elections will be held only in two other wards," Rashid said.
Local polls boycotted
Like the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, the AIP also boycotted the urban local body elections in protest against the central government's move to abrogate Article 35A of the Constitution, which bars outsiders from owning properties in Kashmir. Rashid said that his party "boycotted the polls as the conditions were not conducive to hold elections."
The handicraft salesman from Srinagar, who is steering clear of the elections in protest against the bloodshed in Kashmir, also asserted that "if any attempt is made to revoke Article 35A, the situation will worsen in Kashmir, and the people will rise in an agitation like never before". He added that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir had deteriorated under the PDP-BJP coalition government as well as under the current Governor's Rule.
"People from other parts of India run all sorts of trade and businesses here. People from outside the state work as laborers and even barbers, which deprive us of jobs," Inayat said. "The situation will become grimmer if Article 35A is revoked. The BJP government is pursuing anti-Muslim policies. Muslims in India are facing atrocities. How can we expect there to be any development during their rule in Kashmir?"
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