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Not really of the people, by the people, for the people

By Rashid Ahmad

Srinagar, Oct 6: The idea of elections as the ultimate democratic device is a deep-seated principal of political democracies.

The other day when Home Minister, Rajnath Singh said that by holding civic body elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the government wanted to take democracy to the grass-root level, he must have had the importance of elections in mind.

Elections, indeed, are the soul of democracy. But where the point is missed is elections are also a participatory process. It is the participation of people that fundamentally makes the difference. If there are no elections or only sham elections, it can be termed failure.

There are 11 Municipal Councils/Committees in three districts of Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam with 133 wards. Out of 133 municipal wards, only one ward is going to ‘elect’ its member in the ongoing civic poll process. All other 132 wards have either a single nominee or no nominee.

Eighty five (85) wards of these Municipal Councils/Committees are vacant with no nominees while 47 wards have single nominees (elected unopposed). Only one ward is scheduled for polling for having more than one candidate.

What makes the process even more absurd is that, at least, five municipal councils/committees have more than 50 percent seats vacant, and two committees with 26 wards have no nominee. All these seats are vacant.

Not quite a democratic process.

In Pulwama district, Awantipora is the only Municipal Committee where one seat is scheduled for polling. The Committee has 13 wards. Eleven of them are vacant (having no nominees). One seat has a single nominee (won unopposed) and one seat has two nominees. The polling for this seat would be held in the third phase on October 13.

Not a single candidate has filed nominations in 13 wards of Khrew Municipal Committee of the same district. All the seats of the Committee are vacant. In Tral Municipal Committee, nine seats are vacant and four have got elected unopposed. In Pampore, out of 17 seats, 11 are vacant and six have single nominees (elected unopposed).

In the main Pulwama Municipal Council, out of 13 wards, only three wards have single nominee (elected unopposed) while 10 other wards are vacant with no nominees.
Kulgam district also depicts the same picture.

In Frisal Municipal Committee, all the 13 wards are vacant for want of candidates. For six wards of Yari Pora Municipal Committee, three got elected unopposed and three remain vacant with no nominees. All the eight members of Devsar Municipal Committee have got elected unopposed. In seven wards of Qazigund, four got elected unopposed whereas three lay vacant. In Kulgam Municipal Council, eight wards have no nominee while five others have single nominee.

The Shopian Municipal Council with 17 wards, 13 have single nominees (elected unopposed) while remaining four have no nominee.

In Anantnag (Islamabad) district, for Pahalgam Municipal Committee, eight members have got elected unopposed while five seats are vacant. For 17 Wards in Bijbehara, 12 are vacant and five have single nominees. The Mattan Municipal Committee is likely to have keen contest for 11 Wards while two other wards have got their members elected unopposed. Aishmuqam has contest for two wards. For the 13 wards, nine members have been elected unopposed, two have no nominees while two others would see contest.

The picture in Duroo is not clear as the 13 BJP and Congress candidates who had filed nomination papers are reported to have withdrawn from the contest. Sixteen Wards of Anantnag Municipal Council would also see contest. Nine members of the Council have got elected unopposed.

What adds to the absurdity of these elections is that most of the members who got elected unopposed are either Kashmiri Pandits living in Jammu or BJP-sponsored members staying in hotels isolated from the public mainstream.

Legal position

Other distinctive feature of these elections is that five councils/ committees—Kulgam (8), Pulwama (10), Tral (9), Pampora (11) and Awantipora (11)—have more than fifty percent of seats vacant. Two other committees Khrew and Frisal have all the seats vacant. How these Committees would function and what law says about it is to be ascertained.