Lukewarm Response Casts Black Shadow on ULB Polls in Kashmir
Most candidates in phase one of ULB elections in south Kashmir are likely to be declared as ‘elected uncontested’.
Most of the candidates who filed nomination papers for phase one of the urban local bodies (ULB) elections in south Kashmir are likely to be declared as ‘elected uncontested’ due to the lukewarm response, unprecedented in all the post-1990 democratic exercises in the Valley.
Last date for filing of nominations in the 149 wards of phase one in 13 ULBs, including three of the 74 wards of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, was Tuesday, 25 September.
The process had begun with the first notification on 18 September. Candidates can withdraw nominations till 28 September, and the polling, if necessary, is scheduled to be held on 8 October.
The current elections are being held at a time when the fear of violence has been rated at an all-time high, and killings and threats from militants have spread a wave of terror across the Valley.
NC, PDP Boycott Polls
Both the major regional parties, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are boycotting the current municipal and panchayat elections.
They have made it clear that they would not participate in the elections until the Government of India and the governor’s administration make it unequivocally clear, with a commitment in the Supreme Court and outside, that they would uphold Article 35A that grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
Deputy Commissioners and Returning Officers in three of the six Kashmir districts going to polls in phase one maintained that they had “strict instructions from the government” to ensure secrecy and, as such, they had been “barred” from sharing any details with the media.
“We have been asked not to share even the number of the candidates contesting, let alone identity of the candidates,” one of the DCs asserted on condition of anonymity. “This is a breach of the rules which make it mandatory to make the details public, but it has become more important to ensure safety and security of the candidates,” said the DC.
Secrecy Around Candidate Nominations
Officials at Directorate of Information said the office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shaleen Kabra’s did not share with them any detail, other than the notifications issued for different phases of the staggered polling process.
Babu Ram, Deputy Director Information at the CEO’s office, claimed that he had no access to the information regarding details in the Valley. No press release about the number of candidates in the Valley was issued either by the CEO or Directorate of Information.
Well-placed official sources in the six districts of Srinagar, Budgam, Baramulla, Kupwara, Anantnag and Kulgam, however, revealed to The Quint that in all, 358 candidates had filed nominations for phase one of the polling in 149 wards.
According to official sources, only 50 candidates have filed papers in 49 wards in south Kashmir. In the 13 wards in Kulgam, just six candidates have filed papers in six wards. Not one has filed nomination in rest of the seven wards. In the eight wards in Devsar, nine candidates have filed papers.
Six candidates have filed papers in the seven wards in Qazigund. In Achhabal, nine candidates have filed papers in eight wards. Kokernag is better off with 20 candidates in 13 wards.
‘Don’t Know If Anybody Would Cast a Vote’
The dismal response makes it clear that almost all these candidates would be declared as returned uncontested, while several wards would go unrepresented. “There is possibility of polling in just a few wards in Kokernag. We don’t know if anybody would turn up to cast a vote”, said an official.
Situation is a little better in the north Kashmir districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora, where 160 candidates have filed nominations in 64 wards for phase one.
In the 17 wards in Bandipora, 48 candidates (17 each from the Congress and the BJP, and 14 independent) have filed papers. In the 21 wards in Baramulla, 40 candidates (Congress 21, BJP 13, independent six) have filed nominations. In the 13 wards in Kupwara, there are 43 nominations (Congress eight, BJP six and independent 29).
Of them, around 20 are believed to be affiliated to PDP’s Rajya Sabha member Fayaz Ahmad Mir and former BJP ally Peoples Conference (PC) Sajjad Lone.
In the 13 wards in Handwara, 29 candidates have reportedly filed nomination papers. One of them has a ticket from the Congress and seven from the BJP, while 21 are independent. Thirteen of them are believed to be affiliated to PC.
Officials said the PC, which is a registered party but not recognised by Election Commission of India, has submitted three symbols and requested the CEO that one of these be allotted to its nominees.
In the 2014 Assembly elections, two of PC’s candidates, including Lone, had been returned from Handwara and Kupwara segments of Kupwara district.
In central Kashmir, 11 candidates have reportedly filed papers in three wards of Srinagar Municipal Corporation. In Budgam district, 83 candidates have filed papers in 13 wards of Budgam, 13 wards of Chadoura and seven wards of Khansahab.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz. Views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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