Under a heavy security blanket, Jammu and Kashmir will witness the first phase of civic polls today – an election made controversial after the two key parties in the Valley, National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party, pulled out. With the central government insistent on the election, 422 of the state’s 1,100 municipal wards will go to polls today. The list includes 149 seats in the Valley, 26 in Ladakh, Jammu and Pirpanjal region.
As many as 2,990 candidates are in the fray for the four-phase election, which will end on October 16. Voting will begin at 7 am and end at 4 pm.
But already, around 240 candidates have been elected unopposed, majority of them from the Kashmir valley. The BJP has said that it has got control over seven municipal committees in Kashmir Valley as 75 of its nominees have been elected unopposed.
The campaigning for the first phase of polling – which is taking place under terrorist threat — had stopped on Saturday. In the Valley there was no campaigning by any party and candidates are hiding in security accommodations because of fear.
The elections for the urban local bodies- over which the National Conference has a strong hold — were last held in 2005.
But this election, held after 13 years, lost its sheen after the National Conference and the PDP pulled out, alleging uncertainty over centre’s stand on Article 35A. The PDP, whose short alliance with the BJP ended in June said under the circumstances, the centre’s insistence on holding the election would be a “mockery” of the democratic process.
The Article 35A defines permanent residents of the state and excludes outsiders from owning property and getting benefits including government jobs. Passed through a Presidential order in 1954, the Article has been challenged in Supreme Court, which deferred the hearing to January after a request from the centre, which cited the local bodies’ elections.
Not only the PDP and the National Conference, the rest of Kashmir Valley also shares the anxiety. The Congress has failed to convince any of its members to contest in the elections.
The centre has made elaborate security arrangements for the election, pushing in 400 companies of para military forces or 40,000 personnel in addition to massive security deployment Valley already has. Governor Satya Pal Malik, who had been tasked with holding the elections peacefully, had made a detailed review of the security situation on Saturday.
The second phase of the elections will be held on October 10, the third phase on October 13 and the last phase on October 16. Counting of votes will take place on October 20.