Local Polls: A Reckless ‘Democratic’ Gamble to Restore Some Normalcy  

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For the government forces, the militancy admittedly is not so much a problem as the public support for it. If people can put their lives on the line to save the militants, they will be that much particular to  obey the separatist call for the boycott of polls.

SRINAGAR —J&K is once again looking to hold Panchayat polls in the state. The noise to the effect has grown stronger since the takeover of the new Governor Satya Pal Malik.  The Government has since decided to decided  to commence the formal process for the exercise.

The State Accountability Commission has decided the elections to Municipal Bodies will be conducted in four phases with polling dates between October 1 and October 5 and those to Panchayat will be held in eight phases with polling dates between November 8 and December 4.

Ever since, J&K Police has gone about preparing a security plan. It is also preparing a report about the requirement of the additional forces to be sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs.  Police is also identifying “sensitive and hyper sensitive areas” which would require more security.

However, the process has received a jolt after the decision of National Conference  to boycott the upcoming Urban Local Bodies and Panchayat polls pending clarifications on centre’s policy on Article 35A. Similarly PDP has also developed second thoughts unless public anxiety about the state subject law are addressed.

The prospect of polls has also received a boost of sorts with the All J&K Panchayat Conference showing its readiness to fight the polls in a memorandum to former Governor N N Vohra. But there is a rider: their participation should in no way be linked to the politics and the Kashmir issue.

“We have made it clear that Panchayat polls are purely a community based exercise. Panchayats existed in the state when there was no government,” president AJKPC Shafiq Mir said. Also, they have urged the government to hold panchayat polls on a non-party basis.

However, Mir hails from Jammu region and his opinion doesn’t reflect the sentiment in Kashmir Valley, the epicentre of turmoil. The situation in the Valley is by and large reverse of the one prevailing in Jammu. The past few years have witnessed a drastic deterioration in the security environment. Last year, the government was unable to hold by-poll for a  Parliamentary seat in South Kashmir. The seat is still vacant. And the election for the bypoll in central Kashmir parliamentary constituency could only be held at the cost of the death of seven protesters. What is more, barely 7 percent people exercised their franchise while the rest boycotted.

Last year, the government was unable to hold by-poll for a  Parliamentary seat in South Kashmir. The seat is still vacant. And the election for the bypoll in central Kashmir parliamentary constituency could only be held at the cost of the death of seven protesters. What is more, barely 7 percent people exercised their franchise while the rest boycotted.

The situation since has only further worsened making holding of polls even more daunting an exercise. More so, the Panchayat and urban local bodies polls which are fought at the village and locality level.

But for the state and central  governments, holding these polls has become both a point of prestige and a test of their ability to make a redeeming difference to the situation. Any sign or semblance of public participation in the. polls is expected to herald a change for better in the situation. After all, last time Panchayat polls were held in 2011 when more than 80 percent of the people cast their ballot defying separatist boycott call, thereby dealing a blow to the then prevailing militancy.

But as of now, ithe situation is entirely different. It seems counter-intuitive to imagine people taking part in the exercise in large numbers.  On the contrary, the exercise is believed to lead to a sharp escalation in violence with the candidates and even the voters becoming the target of the  militants. Besides, the renewed and reinforced mass sympathy with the separatist cause only further increases the challenge.

For the government forces, the militancy admittedly is not so much a problem as the public support for it. If people can put their lives on the line to save the militants, they will be that much particular to  obey the separatist call for the boycott of polls. As a result, the fewer number of the people who might venture out to vote are likely to become a target of the public wrath, something that can degenerate into violence. 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 unless situation is conducive for it.


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