By Prarthana Mitra
Jammu and Kashmir went to polls for the first time in 13 years, despite a boycott from separatist groups and two key regional parties. The National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party stand opposed to the civic polls, even as 422 of the state’s 1,100 municipal wards conducted elections amidst tension, terrorist threats, and under heavy security and secrecy.
According to news reports, around 2,990 candidates are in the fray for the four-phase election, which will end on October 16. Counting of votes will take place on October 20.
About the civic polls
The first phase of the polls is a contest of 149 seats in the Valley and 26 in the Ladakh, Jammu and Pirpanjal region. The BJP informed the press that they are confident about seven of the municipal committees in the valley. 240 candidates have already been elected unopposed, around 75 of them from BJP.
Voting began early Monday at 7 AM and ended without marked violence at 4 PM. After militant groups issued threats warning people not to vote, campaigning was suspended in the Valley, and candidates were put up in security accommodations.
History of the polls
The last civic elections were held in 2005 when the National Conference had dominated over PDP. But both parties pulled out of this poll (shortly after PDP quit their alliance with BJP), alleging uncertainty over the centre’s stand on Article 35A. Not only the PDP and the National Conference, but the rest of Kashmir Valley also shares the anxiety. The Congress has failed to convince any of its members to contest in the urban local body elections.
About Article 35A
Passed through a presidential order in 1954, the article defining permanent residentship of the state was recently challenged and could exclude outsiders from owning property and availing government benefits. Moofti’s party claimed that the Centre’s insistence on holding the election despite withholding the verdict makes a “mockery” of the democratic process. The hearing has been postponed to January due to a request by the centre citing this election.
The centre prepared elaborately to maintain peace and security, with an extra 40,000 paramilitary personnel besides the massive security deployment the Valley already has. Governor Satya Pal Malik, who had been tasked with holding the elections peacefully, made a detailed inspection and review of the security situation on Saturday. According to local reports, mobile internet was suspended in the Valley which registered a low turnout compared to Jammu. Press was denied entry into polling booths to ensure safe and clean voting.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius