Jammu and Kashmir civic polls: Death threats, boycotts by NC, PDP mar elections as state records abysmal voter turnout

Gursimran Singh | Oct 12, 2018 | 4 min read

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J&K Municipal Polls: Valley to low; BJP on high in Kashmir

Gursimran Singh

As the state Election Commission carries out the third installment of the four-phased municipal elections in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, one thing becomes clear—conducting urban and local body elections in the conflict-ridden state will remain a herculean task.

Though successive governments have faced this problem since the 1990’s, it has been more difficult for the BJP-led central government this time since the two major regional parties—People’s Democratic Party and National Conference—opted to stay away from the polls. The boycott by PDP-NC is also being read by some as a green signal to Hurriyat and militant outfits to carry out their agenda. (//Controversial statement with no attribution//)

Days before the elections, the state witnessed a major political shift which occurred when many of the NC workers, including spokesperson Junaid Mattoo, left the party to contest the polls, which were being held after 13 years. Political analysts believe this could be NC’s backdoor move to coin proxy candidates to keep them alive despite the decision to boycott polls.

Such concerns over the threat to life are not unfounded. On 5 October, three days before the first phase of the polls, two NC workers were gunned down by militants in broad daylight in Srinagar. It is believed that Nazir Ahmad and Mushtaq Ahmad—both close aides of local NC MLA from Habbakadal Shamima Firdous—were attacked since they were backing the Municipal Elections. However, Firdous alleged that the BJP-RSS were involved in the killing. Denying such allegations, the BJP said that the NC was making such statements out of desperation.

The first phases of the elections were rife with threats and boycott calls from separatists as well as mainstream parties. The Valley witnessed a poor turnout of only 8 per cent. The turnout was an indicator of the fear that locals live with. Muzaffar, a local from one of the districts which went for polls during the first phase, said, “It is just another bandh. There is nothing called elections here. If we go for polls, we will be killed. The government cannot provide round-the-clock security.”

Despite attempts like changing poll timings and advancing it by an hour, the poll percentage dipped further in the second phase when only 3% of the electorate turned to the polling station in the Valley. The percentage in terror-hit areas of the Valley is likely to go down as militants on Friday night gunned down a follower working in Jammu and Kashmir Police (//could not find any other link. more details?//).

However, BJP, which is likely to benefit by the NC-PDP boycott call, is hopeful of heavy turnout in the Valley in Phase 3. While 350 BJP candidates are contesting in 600 municipal wards in 10 districts of the Kashmir, around 60 have already won the elections unopposed. (//Need to mention something about Congress as well//)

“One thing is very clear, J-K doesn’t mean one or two districts. It includes 22 districts of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh province. The voting percentage in Jammu and Ladakh are self-explanatory”, state BJP Chief Ravinder Raina said. “The low turnout in the Valley is due to the fear psychosis that the terrorists (terrorists or militants?) have created among locals. Our forces will soon wipe them out and their so-called fear psychosis. Any attempt to destabilise democracy will be given a befitting reply,” he added.

According to the state Election Commission, 2,990 candidates are in the fray for the 1,145 wards in 79 municipal bodies of J&K. Official figures shared by the EC indicate that 244 candidates have won unopposed. A senior EC official said that only 13 among the 244 are from Jammu region and the rest (231) are from Valley. While 78 candidates won unopposed in Phase 1, 65 candidates made through in phase 2, 49 in phase 3 and 52 in the last phase of Municipal Elections. 177 wards in the Valley didn’t say EVMs as not even a single candidature was filed from them. (//Sentence is unclear//)

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