Fraught Countdown To Polls

Painting a grim picture of the upcoming municipal bodies polls, not a single candidate has filed nomination papers for 177 municipal wards out of a total of 624 in the Kashmir Valley.  In 215 other wards, only one candidate is contesting which would mean all of them will be elected unopposed. This is a far cry from the 2011 polls 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 upcoming 2018 polls thus replicate the 2011 success? There is no easy answer. Though the precedent would point towards a good participation of the people, the prevailing abysmal security scenario makes it an extravagant hope. True, the Valley hasn’t 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 civic election which involves the entire urban and 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 arguably at an all-time high. This doesn’t 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. Should situation go wrong and lead to bloodshed as looks likely, the government will have only itself to blame. Nobody in Kashmir wants an election after what happened during Lok Sabha by-poll last year. Eight people lost their lives when forces opened fire on the people resisting the by-poll in Badgam constituency. A similar situation can unfold again.  In fact, it looks more ominous this time. Unlike in 2011, when thousands of candidates had participated, only fewer are in fray this time, many of them not even living in the wards they are contesting from. Also, unlike the 2011, the NC and PDP hadn’t boycotted. This has created a fraught environment for the exercise.  Here is hoping against hope that it doesn’t lead to violence and bloodshed.  



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