by Farzana Nissar
KULGAM: In the 2018 autumn municipal polls, National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had stayed away. This had left nearly 228 municipal seats vacant in Kashmir division. Two years later, most of these seats are electing their representatives.
In this south Kashmir district, 21 candidates are in the fray for 10 vacant wards of Municipal Council Kulgam, which are going to polls on Monday, December 7. Of the 21, PAGD has fielded its candidates in 5 wards, CPI (M) in 9 wards, BJP in 1 and the other 6 are independents. Interestingly in four wards, CPI (M) is fighting against the PAGD.
A Kashmiri Pandit, Ramesh Kumar Bhat is contesting from ward 6, on the CPI(M) mandate. Ramesh has earlier also won the municipal election from the same ward and served as president of municipal committee Kulgam from 2005 to 2010.
“People have reposed their trust in me earlier and I have always tried not to let them down. I am hopeful of their support this time too,” said Ramesh. Ramesh had migrated to Jammu in 1990 but returned home after five years. Prior to migration, the family-owned a medical retail shop in Kulgam, and also were the dealers of pesticides in the area. But after his return, Ramesh associated himself M Y Tarigami and his political party CPI(M).
Ramesh believes that the ULB elections are undeniably meant for the development of the municipality but this time it has some political motives too. “This election has a lot to do with the developments that took place after August 5, and the betrayal of the central government with the people of Kashmir. PAGD unitedly decided to contest the election to fight the injustice done to us,” Ramesh said. Accentuating the importance of these elections for him and his party, Ramesh said, “Every election is a battle for political parties and we have to fight them in good spirit.”
Ramesh is pitted against two independent candidates, John Mohammad Najar and Shabir Ahmad Shah. While Shabir Ahmad is the president of Muslim Development Front Jammu and Kashmir, John Mohammad has no political background.
“Kulgam has till now only seen self-styled municipal chairmen, either no contest was being held or they were elected unopposed. Town Kulgam has 13 wards, and last time when the election were held, no nomination was filed from 10 wards and the other three candidates were elected unopposed and one among them became the chairman. This isn’t what we call majority,” Shabir Ahmad said. During campaigning, he is telling people to choose “a sensible candidate, if not me”.
For John Mohammad, a history postgraduate, his friends are joyfully conducting a door to door campaign. “My friends convinced me to file the nomination papers, and they are ones campaigning for me right now,” John said. The main plank for his election, John said, is to fulfil his duties impartially, as he believes that political parties are biased towards their supporters. “Poor people get certain benefits like allocation of huts, but we have seen in the past that these benefits are provided on the basis of their relations with people.”
In ward 2, there are three candidates in the fray, one from each CPI(M) and PAGD, and an independent candidate. The independent candidate, Mohammad Ashraf Naik, is an advocate in District Court Kulgam, and has not been to work for a month.
“I wanted to be among the people and campaign for myself. I don’t make fake promises, like restoring the special status and all. I tell them that choosing the right candidate will be better to tackle issues at a local level,” Ashraf said. Ashraf said that he intended to contest as the CPI (M) candidate but could not get the mandate.
“I am all praises for the work CPI (M) has done in the past for Kulgam constituency and wanted to join them, but they gave the mandate to another candidate. I decided to contest independently from the same ward.”
This ward houses some of the important institutions such as District Hospital Kulgam and fruit Mandi Kulgam. Ashraf said that the previous local body authorities have failed to even establish a car parking in this busy area. “These are some of the areas I want to work in.”
Among all these young faces in the fray, one is of Muneeb Ahmad Zarger. A candidate of NC, Muneeb is has been given mandate with PAGD and is contesting from ward 5. His grandfather, late Ghulam Mohammad Waza, had been associated with NC for all his life. “My grandfather had a very long association with the National Conference, so I too decided to contest from the same party. Moreover, keeping in view the current political circumstances we had to choose the parties quite sensibly,” he said.
Muneeb, while highlighting the importance of youth in local politics said, “When young people are disengaged from such political processes, a significant portion population has no voice in decisions that affect our daily lives. To make a difference, it is essential that we come forward and participate in elections.” CPI (M) has fielded Farooq Ahmad against him.
In ward 1 of Kulgam A, Jabeena Akhher of CPI (M) was elected unopposed. Similarly, Nawaz Khan, grandson of Safdar Ahamd Khan, former MLA candidate from the constituency, has won from Ward 9.
Kulgam Municipal Committee has 13 members. In the last elections, only three persons had filed their nominations and were elected unopposed. The remaining 10 candidates will be elected now, including two being elected unopposed.