Local polls in Kashmir farcical

The government is embarking on another farcical exercise in Kashmir with its plan to hold Block Development Council (BDC) elections on October 24. These elections have not been held in the state even in the most normal times, and now the government is proposing to hold them when it is under lockdown for the last two months. There is no social or inter-personal life in the Kashmir Valley, not to speak of a political milieu that enables and facilitates the conduct of elections. What kind of elections can be held when the electors have no freedom of expression and cannot move about, and candidates are invisible and cannot contact the electors? The state election commission has announced that the elections will be held “on party lines’’, though almost all leaders of parties in the Valley are under detention and the parties do not function. The commission also says “there will a level playing field”, but strangely it will only be a field without players. 

The BDC elections will be similar to the sham elections held for the panchayats in November-December 2018. About 61% of the panchayat seats are vacant, because no candidate filed the nominations. Only 7,528 of the 19,582 seats were contested. A large number of them saw unanimous elections, and many had filed their nominations stealthily. Many who were declared elected are not known to the voters. The elections are now known as ghost elections. Some of those who ‘won’ the elections have resigned since then, and many others are under the government’s protection. The National Conference and the People’s Conference, Kashmir’s main political parties, had boycotted the panchayat polls. The BJP claimed to have won the maximum number of seats. The BDC elections are likely to be a bigger farce than this.

The elections will be held just a week before the state becoming two Union Territories. The government’s claim is that local elections will empower people at the grassroots level, help decentralise power and use resources and boost development. But the claims have a hollow ring when there is no people’s participation in the polls. Perhaps, the government only wants to show to the world that it is encouraging democratic processes in Kashmir. But this will not convince anyone. The legitimacy and even the legality of the elections will certainly be contested. The government should first lift the restrictions and restore normalcy in Kashmir, instead of falsely claiming that the situation is normal, and then think of holding elections of any kind there.

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