The Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to hold elections for municipal and panchayat bodies in the state. The new Governor of the state, Satya Pal Malik, took this call in the recent State Administrative Council (SAC) meeting.
The elections will kick off in October this year. The announcement hasn’t come as a surprise — it had been in the pipeline, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself mentioning it in this year’s Independence Day speech.
Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir were last held in 2011. (Photo: Reuters/file)
Panchayat elections for close to 4,200 Sarpanch and 30,000 panch constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir were last held in 2011, after nearly four decades. The polls witnessed 80% voter turnout, and the success of the election process was seen as a huge win for the grass-root level politics in the state. These polls were touted to be non-partisan in nature, with the elected members seen as away from mainstream politics of the state.
But things didn’t remain the same.
In 2012, militants targeted several members of panchayats across the Valley. According to the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference, around 16 panchayat members have been killed and 30 wounded in militant attacks in Kashmir.
Soon, posters started popping up in the rural areas, asking Panchs and Sarpanchs to resign. While many of them went to local mosques and announced their resignations on the loudspeaker, others were seen advertising in newspapers.
The situation continued to deteriorate, and that is the reason why these elections, scheduled to take place in 2016, have been so delayed.
After the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in an encounter, the Valley went into a phase of unrest in 2016. There was very low voter turnout (7.5 %) during the parliamentary by-polls for the Srinagar seat on April 9, 2017, and the Election Commission had to cancel the polls for Anantnag seat.
The realities on the ground are still very difficult.
The situation in the Valley has deteriorated steadily since the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016. (Photo: PTI)
The number of local boys who have gone missing and are presumed to have joined the militant groups in south Kashmir is increasing. In fact, this year, local militants in the Valley have surpassed the number of foreign ones. This has happened after a gap of 10 years.
Most regions of south Kashmir are troubled. Just last week, we saw militants abducting 12 family members of police personnel in South Kashmir. They were all released later, but this, to a lot of experts, is a pointer towards how bad things are on the ground.
To add to it, the Hurriyat Conference has already asked people to stay away from these polls. The separatists have said that these elections don’t serve any purpose in the existing situation in Kashmir.
The recent abductions of the kin of policemen is an indicator of how bad things are in Kashmir. (Photo: PTI/file)
The panchayat elections in 2011 were a huge success, but the fanfare didn’t last long. Those who participated in them blame political parties for this. “Tension grew only after political parties credited the success of panchs to their parties. We are like Masjid Committees. That is why we were successful,” Shafiq Mir, Chairman, All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference, has been quoted as saying.
While the panchs still are asking political parties to stay away from the panchayat polls, even they accept that things are different from 2011 now.
No wonder enthusiasm among the contenders is low compared with last time. And they can’t be blamed for it. With fear of violence looming large in rural areas, the atmosphere for grass-root level politics isn’t really conducive right now. It is certainly going to be a challenge for the administration to ensure these polls are conducted in peace.
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