Backyard Democracy

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Five of the nine phase-Panchayat polls are over. The exact details of the interesting stories would be known once the exercise concludes, reports Umar Mukhtar

Soon, after the first Panchayat elections started on November 17, a video of a visibly shaken manmade rounds on social media. He insisted that someone had filled a nomination form on his name. This startling revelation raised fingers towards the credibility of the exercise. Mairaj ud din Bhat, 45, is a hotelier and a resident of Pushwara Khannabal. He said he was at home, sitting with his family when his phone buzzed. It was a friend. “Mubarak che, I heard you are in the nomination list of the panchayat elections,” the friend told Bhat.

Bhat said he was shocked. He dropped the line immediately and dialled to another friend who works in deputy commissioner’s office. He verified his name in the nomination list.

Bhat said, a week before, two persons came to his home, claiming to be officials from the social welfare department. They asked Bhat about his family. Bhat is a father of three daughters.

“There is a life insurance scheme from the social welfare department for the female children,” Bhat was told by the officials. They took his Aadhar photocopy and two photographs.

Later, Bhat came to know from his friends that his nomination papers for panchayat elections were submitted. Refuting that he ever submitted the forms, Bhat announced his non-affiliation with any political party in three mosques. Finally, he withdrew his candidature.

Another such case was of a woman, Dilshada Akhtar, a 40-year-old lady from Nagam village. She also posted her video on the social networking sites. The story was the same. “I am a simple and an uneducated woman,” Dilshad said. “I know nothing about politics, how can I fill a form?”

Dilshada claims that she was busy with her routine when somebody from the neighbourhood informed her about her candidature. “For a moment, I thought he was kidding me. But I soon realised the sensitivity of the issue.”

The very next moment without informing anybody, she rushed to the Block Office in Kokernag. There, she was told to go to the deputy commissioner’s office. Dilshada boarded a cab and went there. With the help of the people around there, she was in the office of the election control room. With tears in her eyes, Dilshada informed the officials that someone had filled a nomination form on her name. She broke down and pleaded to them to withdraw her name from the list. “Someone has cheated me,” broken Dilshada told them.

She was advised to withdraw before 3 pm for which, she had to approach the District Institute of Education and Trainings (DIET), where the officials were finalising the panchayat election nominations. As she finally reached, she had another shock. “Do you want to withdraw from both the wards?” a concerned official told her. In fact, her nomination had been filed from two wards. Dilshada blames a neighbour, a government employee for all this. According to Dilshada, she was promised some relief from a centrally sponsored scheme. “He took my Aadhar card from me on this pretext,” she alleged.

Earlier On November 17, a dozen people including women, protested in the DC office premises, demanding the withdrawing of their names from the panchayat nomination list. They claimed that they had not submitted their nominations at all. Who had then filled the nominations on their behalf, is a mystery.

Busting the claims

Contrary, to the claims of pseudo-nomination by the candidates, authorities have a reverse, rather a totally different version to present. They deny the claims. “Our system is watertight, there is no room for such things to happen,” District electoral officer Anantnag, Mohammad Younis Malik said.

A candidate who is supposed to get into the elections needs to present documents like Aadhar card, Declaration, Affidavit and police clearance in front of the Returning Officer (RO). “If somebody wants to take part in the elections as a candidate or if someone wants to pull out his candidature papers, it is totally their will, we cannot stop them,” Malik said.

The election commission in its electoral policy has a provision where anyone could apply for a submission on behalf of the other candidate, provided he has all the documentation with an authorisation letter from the candidate. “For an affidavit, a person has to be present in person, so how come, you believe their stories?”

An election official said that almost 90 per cent of the candidates who choose to be part of the election process are ‘hard-core workers of different political parties.’  “Hardly, there are some rare cases where social activists tried to be part of this,” he said. “But due to the pulls and pressures from different quarters of the society, and to save their skin, the candidates are now pulling back.”

Revealing more about the pseudo-nomination cases, the official said that they have witnessed certain cases who protested outside, played the victim card. Later, they came to them, and were clear about the things, “they actually do not want any harm and risks.”

Arch rivals, NC and PDP have decided to stay away from the elections at urban and panchayat levels in the state due to the legal challenge to Article 35-A of the Constitution in the Supreme Court. So the panchayat polls are being conducted on the non- party basis.

On November 19, an audio clip made rounds on social media, where Hizib Commander Riyaz Naikoo and the outfit’s district commander from Shopian Abbas Ali talked about the issue. It threatened the people for participating in these polls.

This was the reason why the chief electoral officer has categorised 777 polling stations as hypersensitive, 571 in Kashmir division and 206 in Jammu division.

Despite pulling back of the two main political parties and grim security situation at ground level, the administration decided to hold the elections. The phased elections, still underway, had a mixed reaction. In south Kashmir, there was less participation, unlike the north.

Five phases are already over. Given the massive spread of the exercise and involvement of tens of thousands of people, the exact situation will be known only after the entire exercise closes. But there are interesting instances.

A panch was declared a winner because he got his own vote. In another case, panch and sarpanch avoided going to cast their own votes.

In two blocks of Frisal (Kulgam), there were no elections. No candidates came with a nomination. Hence all the halqas will remain without the panchayat representatives.

In another interesting instance, a couple in Shangus (Anantnag) had an argument over the issue of panchayat nominations. The wife filed the nomination form for panchayat elections while her husband was of the opinion that she should withdraw from the elections. The tussle became public.

In Bijbehara’s Dochnipora belt, out of 29 Panchayat halqas, only one halqa had a nominee. Thus no panchayat bodies were formed in these areas. In Kulgam’s Damhal Hanjipora (DH Pora) area, people even did not know the exact date of panchayat elections. This indifference is visible throughout.

Sajad Ahmad, a government employee who was on election duty in the Litter (Pulwama), said that the polling booth remained deserted all day. No one turned up there to cast the votes. “The polling duty staff was sharing the previous panchayat election anecdotes all the day while having tea,” he said.

From a Tral Halqa, two individuals from two parties were interested in becoming Sarpanch. Those were the two forms with the electoral authorities, who were keen to manage the Halqa without a contest. Somehow, one form was treated as that of a Panch and the issue was solved without a contest.

There are a total of 168 blocks, 2375 panchayat halqas, and 18833 panchayat constituencies with a total number of 2991128 electors. 4,130 sarpanches and 29,719 panchs are to be elected in the nine-phase election process in the valley.

The last panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir were held in 2011 after a gap of almost four decades. The term ended in 2016 but due to the killing of Burhan Wani followed by months of unrest, the elections were at bay till now.

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