Separatist leaders have called for a complete shutdown across Jammu and Kashmir on October 8 to protest against the commencement of the local body elections, the Greater Kashmir reported on Thursday. Elections to urban bodies will be held in four phases on October 8, 10, 13 and 16, and the panchayat polls will be held in nine phases between November 17 and December 11.
This is the first time since 2011 the state will have local body elections. However, four parties – the National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bahujan Samaj Party – have boycotted the urban local body and panchayat elections over concerns about the Centre’s stand on Article 35A of the Constitution, which grants special rights and privileges to the residents of the state.
The Joint Resistance Leadership, a union of separatist groups, said in a statement: “People are urged to observe subsequent protest shutdown in their own respective areas as per the poll schedule on October 10, 13, and 16, respectively, and show their complete disassociation and resentment against it.” It was signed by separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
“As additional forces are being brought in to J&K for the conduct of this election drama, it is clear that this farce is another attempt at coercion and the rulers want to shove it down peoples’ throats by force with the backing of lakhs and lakhs of military forces stationed here and through sections of police force,” they said.
“This electoral drama is another form of subjugation,” the statement added. “It conveys that even if entire people of Kashmir are against it and even if pro-India regional parties boycott it, the government of India is the command and control in Kashmir and has the power and force to conduct these without caring about its credibility or effectiveness.”
The statement added: “What bigger mockery and irony can there be than that in this so called democratic exercise even the identity of candidates who are supposed to represent public will not be known to the people whom they will represent.” New Delhi is “forcing this exercise on people” to make the people of Kashmir “pay the price and to break their resolve for standing up against the state for their fundamental right”, they claimed.
Around 17 lakh electors will be eligible to vote in the urban bodies elections in October, an Election Commission official told PTI.
“As many as 16,97,291 electors are eligible to exercise their franchise in 1,145 wards across the state of Jammu and Kashmir in four phases from October 8,” a senior election department officer told PTI. The Srinagar Municipal Corporation has the most number of electors, with 6.63 lakh voters across 74 wards. The Jammu Municipal Corporation, with 4.03 lakh voters in 75 wards, comes second, he said.
From the northern areas of Kashmir, at least 62 women will contest in the upcoming urban local bodies elections, according to Greater Kashmir. While most of them belong to the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, some are also Independent candidates.
According to reports, at least 215 candidates have been elected uncontested in the urban local body polls in the Kashmir region. Unidentified officials announced this after the filing of nomination papers for the fourth phase of the elections ended on Wednesday.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has fielded 325 candidates in the Valley region, the highest ever in the state’s electoral history, has claimed that at least 70 of its candidates have won unopposed in the Valley.
Additional Director General of Police Munir Khan said the police force was ready to face all challenges, and added that several measures have been put in place “to ensure foolproof security” ahead of the elections.
“It’s not going to be a cakewalk,” Khan told the Greater Kashmir. “We do expect some trouble vis-à-vis law and order. Militants may also try to disrupt polling at some places, but we are ready to face things.” He added that it was impossible to provide security to each contestant, like in the case of Assembly or Parliamentary elections, because there was a greater number of people this time.
The police and the Central Reserve Police Force have come up with a “joint security strategy”, he said, adding that it will be in place for 60 days. “Under this plan, the police along with the central forces would secure areas while night patrolling shall also be conducted,” Khan said. “We have to ensure a secure atmosphere for candidates to contest freely and for voters to vote without any fear.”