PDP and National Conference have stated that until the Centre clears its stand on scrapping Article 35A — a proposal opposed by both, along with the separatists— they would not be contesting any polls
On September 10, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) announced that it will be pulling out of the panchayat polls and urban local body polls in Jammu and Kashmir, close on the heels of the National Conference (NC) announcing its withdrawal from the polls, which are scheduled to be held in October and November of this year.
The panchayat polls were originally scheduled for June 2016, but were delayed after unrest in the Valley following the killing of militant Burhan Wani.
The local parties have stated that until the Centre clears its stand on scrapping Article 35A — a proposal opposed by both, along with the separatists — they would not be contesting any polls. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has called the parties “hypocrites” since both had contested the Kargil Hill Council elections earlier this month.
“The boycott by both parties is nothing but pure hypocrisy. Both Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti enjoy power and protocol as MP and MLA respectively,” BJP’s state president Ravinder Raina told India Today.
The withdrawal of local forces in J&K has opened the arena for a direct contest between national parties. BJP has said it will contest all the seats in south Kashmir, an area which has been in the news recently for two separate incidents of attacks on policemen and their kin in the region, and where even the local parties were finding it hard to field candidates. While Congress has stated that leaders from the state plan to meet the Governor to ensure safety of their candidates during the polls and only then come to a final decision, BJP has stated that those who are opposing the polls are “anti-people and anti-development”.
“The state will lose crores of grants if these elections are not held as soon as possible. Parties such as the National Conference and the PDP, who are opposing elections to local bodies and panchayats, are scared of losing ground,” Priya Sethi, BJP’s spokesperson, said in a statement.
But reports citing intelligence and security sources have warned that violence cannot be ruled out during the polls.
“Some bloodspill will be unavoidable,” an officer told India Today. Shabir Ahmed Kullay, a National Conference candidate from Shopian in 2014 assembly elections, told NDTV that the security situation in the Valley is not fit for the polls. “Situation is such that nobody is ready to contest the polls,” he said.
While AK Bhatt, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 15 Corps, told NDTV that the elections will be conducted peacefully and that people will take part in the elections, reports suggest that the polling percentage is expected to be significantly low. Experts have cited last year’s Srinagar by-elections as an example — the elections then had witnessed only around 7 percent turnout.
“If the central government was serious about holding the elections, they shouldn’t have filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court regarding Article 35A. That just gave the local parties a reason to boycott the polls,” Bhawesh Jha, a psephologist and political observer told Moneycontrol.
“The government showed immaturity because the affidavit made the elections political, and panchayat polls are generally apolitical affairs,” he said, adding that he doesn’t see the elections going ahead. “If they do, there can be large-scale violence. The administration will have to ensure the security of the candidates, which total in lakhs, since the local parties are not contesting.”
According to reports, over 16 panch and sarpanch members have been killed in the last four years.
The last time municipal elections were conducted in the state was in 2005 while the last panchayat polls were conducted in 2011. The 2011 elections saw 82 percent turnout, and were hailed as a success, especially since they were conducted in the shadow of the 2010 unrest in the Valley.