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Elections or Political Appointments? BJP Winning Kashmir Civic Polls Unopposed

All the 13 candidates of BJP from Shopian, including four female members, have reached Jammu party office to celebrate their “victory” in the elections that were never held.

Aakash Hassan |

Updated:October 7, 2018, 10:15 AM IST
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Elections or Political Appointments? BJP Winning Kashmir Civic Polls Unopposed
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Shopian: District Shopian in volatile South Kashmir has 17 municipality wards. No one in this militancy hotbed will cast their vote in the upcoming civic body elections, but the results have already been declared.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was the only one to file nominations. It has a walkover on 13 seats, while the remaining four seats have no one to represent.

As the state was planning the civic body elections, militants issued a boycott call and warned people against taking part in the electoral process. Amid threats and socio-political consequences, it became difficult for parties to nominate candidates for the polls.

All 13 candidates of the BJP from Shopian, including four female members, have reached the party office in Jammu to celebrate their “victory” in elections that were never held.

In Kashmir, out of 598 municipal wards, 178 have witnessed no nomination and 190 wards have single nominations. Most of them represent the BJP.

Political analyst Professor Sidiq Wahid termed these polls as “appointments".

Apart from Shopian, there are other places, including some areas of Pulwama, Anantnag and Kulgam, where the BJP is expecting a walkover. For the remaining seats, they have to contest against nominees from the Congress and Independent candidates.

The Congress has alleged that the government did not provide adequate security to their aspirants in places where the BJP is winning uncontested.

“In Devsar, Shopian and Pulwama areas, the security situation is grim. We had asked for security but the government did not meet our demands, despite repeated appeals,” said GA Mir, J&K Congress head.

The government, however, claimed that it was going to make foolproof security arrangements for the polls.

“The Centre has rushed 400 additional companies of paramilitary forces to the Valley,” Chief Secretary of State BVR Subramanyam announced at a press conference in Srinagar recently.

Two major political parties of Kashmir, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC), have already announced state-wide boycott. These regional parties said that the reason for boycott was the Centre’s stand on Article 35-A.

“The Government of India should assure the people of Jammu and Kashmir that Article 35-A will be safeguarded,” said National Conference youth leader Aga Ruhullah Mehdi. “The boycott is a protest.”

BJP Gaining Ground

BJP state chief Ravinder Raina termed the Shopian walkover as a “historic win”.

The Valley will now have BJP-run municipal commissions in its towns and cities. Observers believe the boycott by NC and PDP is indirectly helping the BJP make inroads in the Valley.

“With the government extending financial powers to local bodies, winning BJP candidates can create a space for themselves by cultivating people and interest groups. Once interests are created, it is difficult to dislodge them,” said Tahir Firaz, a Kashmiri political science scholar at Dublin City University.

With power in their hands at grassroots, they will be in a better position to expand their party to every nook and corner of the Valley.

“Once BJP takes control of local bodies, they will wield power which may help them further entrench the BJP in Kashmir,” said Firaz.

Disappointment is visible on ground among workers of the regional political parties. They think they will have no one to listen to their issues if the BJP comes to power.

“A BJP municipal councilor will never take the pain of addressing our local issues. He will be more interested in pleasing his bosses in Delhi,” said a PDP worker from Srinagar on condition of anonymity.

NC-PDP Proxy

It is being alleged that the PDP and the NC have fielded proxy candidates in the elections, but they deny the claims.

Fayaz Ahmad, the BJP’s election in charge at Srinagar office, claimed at the BJP manifesto release that the party would soon put out a list of candidates contesting as proxies for the PDP and the NC. The Congress made similar claims.

One such alleged case from north Kashmir’s Kupwara district is Riyaz Ahmad Mir, the brother of PDP MP Fayaz Ahmad Mir. Riyaz campaigned for his brother in the earlier elections.

Riyaz was sacked from the party the day he filed nominations. However, PDP workers were told “to vote for him”.

“We have been directed by party leaders to vote for Riyaz,” Javaid Ahmad, PDP worker from Kupwara, told News18.

The Boycott Politics

The PDP and the NC do not link the current poll embargo with future politics. Both parties say they are still part of the mainstream political process.

“We have not boycotted the political process,” said PDP spokesperson Rafi Mir. “The ground situation is not conducive for polls. We had demanded that the government take a firm stand in the Supreme Court for the protection of Article 35-A,” he said.

Questioning the credibility of polls, Mir said, “This is no political activity as the candidates are unable to campaign. They cannot even live with their own families.”

Countering the allegations of fielding proxies, the PDP spokesperson said: “Had we contested, the BJP would not have had an unopposed victory."

“General masses have rejected these polls in Kashmir. That is why candidates are winning unopposed,” said NC’s Mehdi.

Reacting to the unopposed win of the BJP, he took a dig on the approach of the saffron party and termed it as show-off for the upcoming general elections in 2019.

“The approach of the BJP has put democracy in danger in Kashmir,” he added.

Professor Wahid drew a parallel between the current poll scenario with the elections conducted in early 1950s. Historians have regarded those elections as undemocratic.

The Congress, however, finds the boycott as a loss for secular forces.

“Places where the BJP is having a walkover are PDP and NC strongholds conventionally,” said GA Mir of Congress.

“Had we too boycotted the polls, the Congress’ claim of fighting communal forces would have rung hollow,” Mir added. He believes that unification of secular forces would have kept the BJP at bay.

(Aakash Hassan is a Kashmir based freelance journalist)
| Edited by: Sana Fazili
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