Government creates cluster accommodation for candidate contesting polls

Firdous Hassan | Oct 9, 2018 | 5 min read


As the first phase of urban local body polls in Jammu and Kashmir ends with a wide gap between voter turnout in the Valley districts (8.3%) and that in Jammu (80.95%), candidates hope for some respite after being holed up in hotels for security purposes for days now. Consistent calls for a boycott of elections, threats by militant outfits and multiple incidents of violence posed a security threat and risk to the life of contesting candidates. To provide protection, scores of them were accommodated in several hotels in Srinagar’s prime areas like Dalgate, Munwarabad, and Rajbagh.

Fayaz Ahmad (name changed), for instance, was moved into a hotel in Rajbagh along with at least a dozen other candidates nearly a fortnight ago. The hotel, being guarded by personnel from Central Reserve Police Force, also has a few local police officers which are entrusted with the responsibility of frisking candidates and asking them to avoid venturing out after sunset.

Ahmad, who is a businessman by profession, is an independent candidate contesting for Ward 69 of Soura constituency—a volatile area in Srinagar, majorly dominated by stone-pelting protests during curfews and shutdowns. During his stay at the Rajbagh hotel, Ahmad had to instruct the hotel staff to keep his particulars hidden. “It is better to keep low till the results are declared,” Ahmad said, adding, “Even my family doesn’t have any knowledge of my decision to participate in the election.”

In July, former J&K Governor Narendra Nath Vohra declared that the local body polls would be held in the state in a phased manner. To combat militant threats, newly-appointed Governor Satya Pal Malik directed the civil administration officials to provide adequate security cover to candidates contesting the local elections which are being held after a gap of 13 years. The two main political parties of the state—National Conference and People’s Democratic Party—boycotted the elections calling it “planted and misconducted” since “the time is not right for elections”.

The killing of two National Conference workers on October 5 by suspected militants in Srinagar aggravated the concerns. At least 10 panchayat buildings across Kashmir were also set ablaze ultimately leading to the withdrawal of nominations reportedly by 45 candidates across the Valley.

A candidate from Ward 62 of Srinagar told Firstpost that his house was attacked just a couple of days before he checked into the hotel being guarded by security forces. “That’s the reason why I had to seek accommodation from the government,” he added. As per another candidate waiting alongside Ahmad, a letter from the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar was sent to the hotel management for allotting rooms to “vulnerable” candidates.

Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Law and Order and Security, Munir Ahmad Khan said, “It wasn’t possible to provide individual security to each and every contestant as they are more in numbers compared to assembly and parliamentary polls. So, we decided to accommodate them all at hotels in secure areas of Srinagar where they will be kept and collectively guarded.” The ADGP, however, said that the duration of their accommodation has not been ascertained as yet. “Once the municipal and panchayat elections are over, the security of the all contestants will be reviewed,” he added.

Despite security covers by the government, several candidates are still worried about their safety. On October 4, 79 independent contestants accommodated in a hotel at Munawarabad took to roads and expressed their displeasure.

Mohammed Fazil Khan, an independent candidate contesting polls from Ward 62 of downtown’s Rainawari area on October,4 protested against the number of Personal Security Officers deputed to guard the candidates. “There are only eight PSOs guarding around 80 of us. How can we feel secure?” Khan asked worryingly. “My family is constantly being threatened. All of us have put out lives at stake after filing the nomination papers. It is the government’s responsibility to provide us with adequate security.”

Khan claimed to have approached the higher authority “but there hasn't been any response from their end”. He also alleged that the government has shown a “disparity” between the independents and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates. “Every BJP contestant has a personal PSO and a weapon has also been allotted to each of them for self-defence. Don’t we have the right to question such partiality?” he asked. According to Khan, this could also be a tactic to force independents into withdrawing their nominations which could help BJP candidates.

The attack on BJP candidate, Adil Ahmad Buhru of Ward-15 by stone pelters in north Kashmir's Bandipora district while he was on way to polling booth,  has further unnerved the candidates, who demand proper security even after polls.

"We feel very scared now. The government should take care of our security even after elections are over," another candidate from the Ward-15 said.  

With the main regional parties out of the foray, BJP and Congress are looking forward to capitalising the opportunity and making space for themselves in Jammu and Kashmir. This might be of little help since various pockets of the state were not favouring any political party leading to 69 uncontested seats in first phase.

Nearly 17 lakh voters will be eligible to elect representatives to 79 municipal bodies in the state, including the Municipal Corporations of Srinagar and Jammu. According to the state Election Commission, 2,990 candidates are contesting in the four phases of urban local polls which will end on October 16 and the results will be announced on October 20.

Note : The first phase of ULB election have ended, so i made changes accordingly ...The candidates have been holed up in the hotels but now they want security even after the election. The relief for them could be when they are secure even after elections. Rest, I mentioned details and figures which you wanted.

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