By Rahiba R. Parveen
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has claimed victory in the urban local body elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the “stupendous effort” of the party.
“I salute the entire team of @BJP4JnK for their stupendous efforts in the local body elections. I am glad that they reached out to every section of society and explained the Party’s development agenda,” he tweeted.
Both are factually correct. After all, the BJP did win 100 of the 624 wards in the Kashmir region — its best performance ever — and will head six municipal bodies.
It won over 212 of the 520 wards in Jammu, a notable feat in view of the anti-incumbency of the last four years.
However, there’s a subtext to the BJP’s big achievement.
Of the 100 seats that it won in Kashmir, the party had no opponent in 76. In at least two seats, even the party’s own candidate stayed away from the polling booth.
That’s not all.
Of the 157 wards won by the Congress, 78 were uncontested. Independents won 178 wards, of which 75 witnessed no contest.
Of the 624 wards in Kashmir, as many as 185 wards still remain vacant in the absence of any candidate willing to contest. A significant 231 saw a single candidate, while just 208 witnessed a contest.
In Nawakadal, for example, BJP’s Arif Majeed Pampoori got 27 of the 45 votes polled, while the total number of voters registered for this ward are 5,372.
In Karan Nagar, Ashok Kabul (BJP) won by 73 votes of 144 polled. All 73 votes were cast by migrants.
Another victory for BJP was in Bagh-e-Mehtab, where Bashir Ahmed Mir secured eight votes of the nine polled. This ward has 5,118 electors.
Nazir Ahmed Gilkar from Basant Bagh won 77 votes of 133 polled; there are 13,748 electors in this ward.
Farooq Ahmad Khan alias Saifullah (BJP) lost to Nakul Matto in Tankipora (ward 33). A former militant, Khan could only get four votes. Of the four votes, three were cast by migrants.
In four militancy-hit districts of south Kashmir, BJP won 58 wards. Around 34 winners in these wards are non-Muslims. In the Anantnag municipal committee, the BJP secured 29 of 132 wards. In Shopian, of the 17 wards, it won 12. In Kulgam, of the 47 wards, the party won eight. In the Pulwama municipal committee, of the 69 wards, the BJP won nine.
The Congress won 50 seats in Anantnag against the BJP’s 29. The grand old party won 16 wards in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, while independents, including former National Conference spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu, won 49 of the 66 wards.
In its stronghold Jammu, the BJP fared on expected lines. It won 13 urban local bodies, including the Jammu Municipal Corporation, and emerged as the single-largest party in eight others. The Congress managed to win just three committees.
Of the 37 urban local bodies, the BJP won in 212 wards while Congress won just 110 wards, with the number two spot going to independents — 185 wards.
For the opposition Congress, the loss of face in Jammu, what with the BJP facing huge anti-incumbency, would be worrisome, observers said.
The saving grace for the Congress was that it won all 13 seats of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Leh and five of 13 seats in Kargil. The BJP won the Ladakh Lok Sabha seat in 2014.
With the worst-ever polling percentage in the Kashmir Valley, the elections were always going to attract questions.
Adding to the controversy was the claim by governor Satya Pal Malik that a foreign-educated person would be the next mayor of Srinagar. That person, it now seems clear, will be Junaid Mattu. Immediately after the results were announced, separatist-turned-politician and People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone nominated Mattu as his party’s mayoral candidate.
“Congratulations to PC Mayoral Candidate @Junaid_Mattu and the victorious candidates from PC for heralding a new change in Srinagar and thanks to Irfan Ansari and all my senior colleagues for his successful campaign management during the ULB elections,” Lone tweeted.
Governor Malik, who’s currently in charge of the state’s administration, said his government had managed to conduct “successful” elections under immense pressure.
“A biased person will count the percentage. My assessment of the election is everyone — both the mainstream parties, small parties, Hurriyat and terrorists — all of them opposed this election, but people still came (to vote),” Malik told ThePrint.
“In 2002 as well, the percentage was as low as it was (this time). So that way, I see no reason to feel very good or exalted. But yes, the basic thing which we should take note of is that entire election was violence-free. Not even a bird was harmed. In other elections — parliamentary and assembly — nine people died.
“We held these elections successfully. We could thwart the threats we (the administration) and the voters were given, and fight it out.”