A woman walking by a polling booth in Srinagar, Kashmir on the day of fourth phase of Urban Local Body elections in Jammu and Kashmir. Photograph by Sanna Irshad Mattoo for The Kashmir Walla
As the largely boycotted Urban Local Body (ULB) elections ended today in Jammu and Kashmir, the final percentage of the voter turnout in all four phases was recorded 35.1 percent in the state.
With the volatile political situation in Kashmir Valley in recent years, the much awaited elections had shadow of violence looming over it. Even before the elections, the government forces had set up checkpoints across the Valley. These checkpoints were being manned by police, paramilitary forces and army personnel to search and screen every vehicle passing. The authorities during the election period also had seized scores of motor-bikes after the killing of two National Conference workers by motor bike-borne suspected militants in Srinagar city.
For the elections, the government had deployed additional 4000 government forces across Kashmir for security reasons. Reportedly, 138 polling stations in Kashmir and 52 polling stations in Jammu were categorized hyper sensitive.
In the fourth phase, 4.0 percent was recorded in Srinagar district and 11.3 percent was recorded in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. The total turnout in this phase was 4.2 percent.
In fourth phase, as many as 52 candidates were elected unopposed, while none filed nomination papers for 44 wards that were going to the polls in the last phase.
In third phase, the Jammu region recorded the highest turnout of 81.4 percent while in Kashmir division, 3.5 percent was recorded in which in Baramulla’s border town Uri, 75.33 percent polling was recorded. While south Kashmir’s Mattan area witnessed less than 3 percent in the third phase of UBL elections. The overall percentage in third phase was 16.4 percent.
In third phase, Wholesome of 365 candidates were in field covering 96 wards. Originally 411 candidates were supposed to contest for 207 wards. However, candidates from 49 wards in the Kashmir valley were elected unopposed in which no nomination were filed in 62 wards of the militancy-riddled valley.
In second phase, the total percentage in Jammu division was 78.6 percent and in Kashmir division 3.4 percent respectively. The overall voting percentage in second phase was 31.3 percent.
In second phase of ULB elections in the State which was on October 10, in which 1,029 candidates among which 881 candidates were from Jammu and 148 from Kashmir division were in fray for 263 municipal wards, including 49 in Kashmir and 214 in Jammu. The voting took place at 544 polling stations across Jammu and Kashmir.
The state in first phase witnessed 65 percent polling in Jammu division, Ladakh region 62.1 percent, in Kashmir division 18.6 percent while in Kashmir Valley only 8.2 percent was reported. The overall voting turnout in the first phase of ULB polls in the state was 56.7 percent.
In the first phase of the ULB polls, the total number of wards were 321 wards including 238 in Jammu, 183 in Kashmir and Ladakh. In which, a total of 1204 candidates including 207 were from Kashmir, while 78 had been elected as uncontested, most of them were from valley.
The political contest and boycott
The fight in the polls was directly between Congress and BJP, and its ally Peoples Conference (PC) led by former minister Sajad Gani Lone.
State’s two major parties National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and smaller parties had called for boycott by linking their participation to central government’s stand on Article 35A, which grants special privileges to permanent residents of the state.
Notably, PC chairman and MLA Handwara Sajad Gani lone criticized the step taken by NC and PDP for boycotting the elections. He said that the way his party boycotted elections for twenty-five years, now let both the parties boycott for another twenty-five years. Let them vacate from seats in state assembly, parliament and surrender government bungalows occupied by their legislators and parliamentarians, he added.
Also, Joint Resistance Leaders (JRL) – an amalgam of pro-freedom groups, had also appealed people not to take part in the elections, while as militants had warned the contestants of “severe consequences”.
With less number of people coming out to vote and candidate secrecy, an Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel, Rajesh Kumar during third phase had told The Kashmir Walla that it was “really a surprising experience for him to see empty polling booths with just our men around. It seems people are very angry with the system.” A local, Mohammad Yousuf from outskirts of Srinagar had opined that he doesn’t know who was contesting from his ward.
Elections shadowed by threats, shutdowns
Besides, no election campaign took place in the Valley, which was visible in the first election after April 2017 when bypolls to Srinagar parliament seat which was marred by violence in which eight civilians were shot dead by the government forces. Only 7 percent polling was recorded, the lowest poll percentage in state’s history.
However, during the days of voting in the Kashmir valley, the state witnessed complete shutdown in polling areas. Most of the business operations and shops were closed, traffic remained off the roads. Schools, filling pumps, colleges, and government institutions remained closed during the four phases of the polls.
Meanwhile, in this period, many Panchayat houses from different areas of Valley were set on fire and election boycott posters were pasted on the walls. In view of militant threats, the authorities didn’t reveal the names of the candidates contesting the ULB polls.
Now the next time state goes to polls is in late November, when Panchayat elections will be held across the state.