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Amid a Valley of Discontent, Govt Tries to Shape a New Political Mainstream in Kashmir

As the state has no elected government since last year and the BDC elections are happening for the first time, the panchs and the sarpanchs participating in the polls believe that they will be the new MLAs.

Aakash Hassan | News18.com@Aakashhassan

Updated:October 8, 2019, 8:17 PM IST
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Amid a Valley of Discontent, Govt Tries to Shape a New Political Mainstream in Kashmir
Security personnel stand guard during restrictions following the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 in Srinagar. (Image : PTI)

Srinagar: As most of the political leaders remain incarcerated in Jammu and Kashmir since August 5, when the state was stripped of its special status, a ‘new mainstream political setup’ is taking shape.

For the first time, Block Development Council (BDC) elections will take place in J&K on October 24, the last election before the state gets divided into two union territories.

BDC elections will elect the chairpersons of the blocks and only panchs and sarpanchs of the particular block will have voting rights.

Like the Panchayat elections, held last year, the two main regional parties, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC) have indicated that they will stay away from this poll process.

The polls will give emergence to a new political class.

The New MLAs

The officials in the Governor-led administration state that it will be a move towards ‘grassroots development’.

In 2012-14, a proposal to hold Block Development Council Elections was floated but, officials say, MLAs of that time felt ‘insecure’ and did not let the election take place.

“The elected legislators used to believe that their authority will be challenged if the BDC elections take place,” a top bureaucrat serving in J&K said.

Now, as the state has no elected government since last year and the BDC elections are happening for the first time, the panchs and the sarpanchs participating in the polls believe that they will be the new MLAs.

“The politicians who have looted the state are in jails and now a new leadership will come up,” said Nisar Ahmad Bhat, a panch from south Kashmir’s Pulwama. “It will bring development to Kashmir.”

The officials also believe that these elections will be a relief for the people as they will have elected public representatives. “There are no public representatives. It is very important to have elected people, who can listen to the grievances of the people,” said an official.

Till the assembly elections are held in state, which is not going to be an easy affair, the elected people in the BDC, officials believe, will be the representatives of the people.

Democracy in Hotels

Abdul Majeed Mir is a panch from Sopore area of north Kashmir. He is staying at a hotel in Srinagar with his family, like dozens of other sarpanchs. These hotel accommodations have been provided to these elected panchs and sarpanches by government owing to the security threat they face at home.

“It is not possible for me to stay at my home. Till the situation gets better I will have to stay here,” he says. When will the situation improve, he has no idea, but says, “Perhaps it will take years.” With the BDC elections taking place, these hotels will now become the new ‘power centre’ in Kashmir.

No voters in 60% wards

After the Panchayat elections were held last year in the state, over 60 per cent of the wards could not be constituted in Kashmir Valley due to the lack of quorum.

“There are 1,057 panchayats which have not been constituted because of the lack of quorum,” a senior official in Panchayati Raj department, told News18. “As per the constitution, a panchayat can only be constituted after it has at least a sarpanch or a panch,” he said, adding that in these panchayats either there is “only a panch or sarpanch or the entire panchayat is completely vacant.”

The panchayats where there is a lack of quorum, the elected sarpanchs cannot take the oath. Officials say that technically they cease to be panchayat members.

Panchayat members who cannot take the oath told News18.com that they feel deceived. “We left our families and played with our lives by contesting elections only to strengthen grassroots democracy but we have been made scapegoats,” said Sajid Raina, a panchayat member from Pulwama, who couldn’t take oath.

Increasing distrust

It has been 65 days since the special status was repealed, but normal life in Kashmir valley still remains affected. Mobile, telephone and all internet services remain snapped. Political parties in the valley have vehemently opposed New Delhi’s decision of making article 370 ineffective.

In these circumstances, people believe, that participating in BDC elections is “another gimmick” of central government to show semblance of normalcy.

“When the political leaders who worked for India here have been jailed, when a former chief minister is detained under Public Safety Act, participation of these people in the elections will only increase distrust in people for New Delhi,” said Mohammad Khubaib, a political science student.

As per the Election Chairperson, ballot boxes will be used for voting and there will be one polling station for each council. There will be 310 polling stations in the state. The last date of filing of nominations is October 9.

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