When are the elections?
The situation is volatile ahead of the four-phase elections for urban local bodies in Jammu and Kashmir, from October 8 to 16. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the civic elections in his Independence Day speech, but the main regional parties, National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are boycotting the process. Though the two parties welcomed Mr. Modi's announcement, they made a U-turn in a month.
Who are boycotting the polls?
Separatists and militant outfits have already started a boycott campaign and asked people to stay away from contesting the urban local body elections followed by panchayat polls in November. The militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen has warned people of dire consequences if they file nominations. This has pushed the State to a rare phase where both separatists and mainstream parties are on the same page, though on different sides. The clock has been reversed to a 1996-like situation, when New Delhi grappled to find any mainstream party to contest the Assembly elections in the throes of widespread militancy. It was NC patron Farooq Abdullah who returned to Srinagar from London to contest the elections.
Why the anger?
However, this time, the call for a boycott by mainstream parties came from Dr. Abdullah, a three-time Chief Minister who heads the State’s oldest regional party. Back from New Delhi after showering praise on the late Prime Minister and BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee at a commemoration ceremony, Dr. Abdullah had to firefight to save his political stock in Kashmir. Despite seeking elections for urban local bodies and panchayats repeatedly at meetings with the then Governor, N.N. Vohra, and newly appointed Governor Satya Pal Malik, the former Chief Minister on September 5 decided to boycott the polls. He blamed the Centre’s stand and the State government’s approach to the sensitive issue of Article 35A, a case pending in the Supreme Court. “The NC will not participate in these elections unless the Government of India and the State government clarify their position and take effective steps for protection of Article 35A in and outside courts,” said Dr. Abdullah. The PDP, too, decided to boycott the polls. Its president Mehbooba Mufti pointed the finger at the Centre, saying it had linked the elections and the issue of Article 35A before the Supreme Court by seeking a deferment on the grounds that a judgment would disturb the law and order situation. “People see this as an assault on the special constitutional status of the State,” she said. Article 35A allows the Jammu and Kashmir Legislature to decide who all are ‘permanent residents’ of the State and confer on them special rights and privileges. The Supreme Court has deferred to January 2019 the hearing of petitions challenging the validity of Article 35A.
Who is contesting?
The CPI(M), the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Democratic Party Nationalist (DPN), the Awami National Conference and other smaller parties are staying away from the polls. However, the Congress decided to contest in a bid “not to provide a free field to BJP candidates to win these elections.” The BJP, for the first time ever, will be contesting from all wards.
What is the Governor’s stand?
The Governor described the elections as an attempt to “strengthen grass-roots institutions and a well-calculated move.” In 2008, 2010 and 2011, the elections, whether for the Lok Sabha, the Assembly or panchayats, did help New Delhi restore its position in the State. Internally, participation of people put both separatists and militants on the back foot and globally, the elections reflected a sign of normalcy in the State.
What is the fear?
However, holding elections in the absence of mainstream parties has put credibility of the polls at stake. The administration is apprehensive. For the first time, it is luring employees for poll duty with an additional one month’s salary. Despite a week left for the polls, there is no visible campaigning on the streets of the Valley. The last civic elections were held in 2005.