Around 75% voters participated in the first phase of panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday amid tight security, reported The Indian Express. Eight more phases remain to be held until December 11.
Both the main parties – the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party – are boycotting the elections over the lack of clarity on Article 35A of the Constitution, which grants special rights and privileges to the state’s citizens. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is not contesting as well – the three parties had also not participated in the urban local body polls last month.
The state’s Chief Electoral Officer Shaleen Kabra said 427 candidates are contesting for 536 sarpanch halakas and 5,951 candidates for 4,048 panch wards, Greater Kashmir reported. Polling was conducted in 3,296 stations, including 1,303 in Kashmir and 1,993 in Jammu. At least 687 polling stations were categorised as hypersensitive, including 491 in Kashmir and 196 in Jammu, said Kabra.
The panchayat elections, due in 2016, were postponed because of the unrest that followed the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July that year. They were to be held from February 15 this year and were postponed again after several leaders claimed the situation in the state was not conducive for holding the elections. The previous panchayat elections in the state were held in 2011, when a voter turnout of 82% was recorded.
Separatist groups asked people to observe a day-long strike against the polls, echoing their earlier call for a shutdown on October 8 across the state to protest against the local body elections. In January, militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen had told its members to pour acid into the eyes of those participating in the panchayat elections.
Unidentified officials said that necessary arrangements have been made to ensure the voting goes smoothly. Central Armed Police Forces personnel have been deployed as well.