Despite the security situation deteriorating by the day, J&K Government has decided to go ahead with the long delayed Panchayat election and Urban Local Bodies polls within next three months. This too when the fear of violence has forced the state government not to hold the already deferred by-election for the South Kashmir parliamentary seat vacated by the PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti after she had taken over as the Chief Minister two years ago.
Last time, Panchayat polls were held in 2011 when more than 80 percent of the people cast their ballot defying separatist boycott call. This was unimaginable at the time considering only a few months ago, J&K had witnessed a five month long separatist revolt in which 120 youth had lost their lives. Polls then were held after a gap of 32 years. And they were a roaring success, bringing mainstream political parties back to the centre stage after their near annihilation during the preceding unrest.
Will the planned 2018 polls thus replicate the 2011 success? There is no easy answer. Though the precedent points towards a massive participation of the people, the prevailing abysmal security scenario makes it an extravagant hope. True, the Valley hasnt been going through the mass unrest but the violence has only escalated, underlining a very fragile security situation. And it would be supremely challenging to hold an electoral exercise as sweeping as a panchayat election which involves the entire rural belt affected most by the militancy.
Also the current militancy, even though not endemic, has developed a presence which far outstrips the number of militants. Besides, the anti-New Delhi sentiment is at a record high. This doesnt bode well for the exercise. This state of affairs is likely to forbid participation in the polls.
There is another fear too: a potential surge in militancy related violence and the killings of the candidates. After 2011 Panchayat polls, the elected panchs and sarpanchs had become sitting ducks in parts of the Valley. Several were killed triggering the mass resignations in their ranks.
There is every likelihood that such a scenario would again unfold. So, there is a need for the government to tread cautiously and not to thrust an election on the state when the conducive conditions for such an exercise dont exist. Should situation go wrong and lead to bloodshed, the government will have only itself to blame. Nobody in Kashmir would want an election after what happened during Lok Sabha by-poll last year. Also considering the prevailing tension over the case against Article 35A in Supreme Court, the situation in the state is too fraught and edgy to make room for an unwanted election.
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