Unlike elsewhere in the country, polling in Jammu and Kashmir and particularly in the Valley has always been a big challenge for the state. Since the inception of militancy here some three decades and volatile law and order incidents since last one decade, with both the militants and their over-ground patrons – the separatists -- calling for the boycott of polls on each occasion, conducting the elections peacefully is no less than a war. This time around, the challenge is much bigger as can be made out from the open threats militants have issued to the candidates participating in the elections besides those who would vote for them– warning them to be ready to part with life and limb “should you choose to contest or vote”!
Though as of now everybody in know of the things here has his or her fingers crossed, with nobody risking a guess as to whether people would come out to vote or not, and if yes, what will be the poll percentage, but the grapevine has it, if the officials speculative claims are believed, 10-15 percent people will vote of course if there is no violence either on the poll days and in run up to the polling.
But in any case, security agencies are on their toes, as they believe next 10 days are going to be very crucial here – something that is also seconded by their counterparts in the intelligence wings as well.
Right now, it is a psychological war between state government and militants going on and if the militants are able to show some rude faces besides some mischief, then obviously it will have a direct bearing on the number of people coming out to vote. Similarly, if the security forces are able to keep the militants at bay by not allowing them to carry out any major subversive activity or for that matter even the soft-target killings of political functionaries, this will add to the people’s confidence and consequently also show up in increased poll percentage.
But in this battle of wits between the two sides, it goes without saying that both will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. While the security forces will be on hooks trying to maintain the semblance of calm and normality, militants will be on the lookout for every single opportunity of instilling fear and scare in the people’s minds and the general political environs of the Valley.
Keeping debates and speculations about the peoples participation or otherwise in the polls aside, as of now more than 350 nominations, including a substantive number of females as well, have filed their nominations across the Valley districts for the upcoming polls for the first phase, which in any case seems a big shot in the Governor Administration’s arms, which despite all odds and even after facing boycott from the two main regional parties National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party and even the CPI(M) decided to go ahead with the ULB and panchayat polls.
In light of its assessment of the situation, executive, intelligence and security agencies have classified various areas on their sensitivity index as hyper-sensitive, sensitive zones. Security deployment and other things will be determined as per the sensitivity score of each area.
In first phase areas like Chadoora, Old Town Baramulla, Devsar-Kulgam, Achabal Kokernag are going to polls on October 08.
In second Phase, Kunzer Tangmarg, Watergam- Barmulla, yaripora- Kulgam, Frisal- Kulgam and Bijbhera will vote on Oct 10.
In the 3rd phase, Hajin, Sopore, Tral and Awantipora, will poll on Oct 13 while as people of Pattan, Pampore, Pulwama, Shopian and Dooru-Verinag will cast their ballot in the 4th phase on Oct 16.
Speaking to Republic, locals from Shopian district of South Kashmir said, "There will be zero per cent polling in Shopian. You can't kill yourself for election. Being a voter or a candidate in these elections is akin to committing suicide. Can’t you see the fear around. Militants have issued threats not only to the candidates but to the voters as well.”
Recently, Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo sent a strong warning to those planning to participate in the polls asking them to carry shrouds along with the elections forms.
In an 11-minute audio clip circulated through social media, Naikoo was heard saying, "We have already stored concentrated hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid. They [candidates] should be ready for the consequences."
In order to provide the safe environment both to the voters and candidates, 40,000 additional paramilitary soldiers will be deployed during the urban local bodies’ elections, out of which 20,300 personnel have been camping in Kashmir since last week of May when they had arrived for the security of Amarnath Yatra. Government is also providing safe accommodations to the contesting candidates in the hotels in Srinagar.
In total, 624 wards will go for polling in the Kashmir valley, out of which, in the first phase 175 wards will go for polls, in the second phase 166 wards, 151 wards in 3rd phase will go for polls and 132 wards will go for polls in 4th phase.
As per the data gathered, till now, there are around 50 wards throughout the Valley where only one candidate each remains in the fray – and is likely to get elected unopposed.