Municipal Walkover: Complete Story About Phase-I

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by Masood Hussain

SRINAGAR: Tensions started easing out as the first of the four-phase municipal polls were over. Unlike Ladakh, Jammu and Pir Panchal range that participated in the exercise massively, Kashmir was lukewarm and modest.

It was Kupwara and Handwara that had better participation and the credit must go to Sajjad Lone and Reyaz Ahmad, the brother of PDP’s Rajya Sabha member, Fayaz Mir, who had resigned from the party and contested. This district topped the participation percentage. Abid Ansari used his influence to take the participation in one ward to a respectable limit.

There were as many as 12 wards where less than 10 votes were polled. These include Jamia Mohalla, Kakar Hamam, Khawaja Sahib, and Bagh-e-Islam (Baramulla); Telipora, Wani Mohalla, Hangalgund (Kokernag); wards 4, 5, Papchan and Kharpora (Bandipore); Bagh-e-Mehtab, Shankapora (Srinagar).

Srinagar Scene

The capital city was in a state of siege to which the government and the society contributed equally. A strike by the separatist and massive deployments of police and paramilitary men made by the government gave a sense of curfew in certain areas. The strike was more visible in the main city where at various places the police en had raised drop gates and would ask people to explain why they move around.

Paramilitary men guarding a polling station in Humhama Badgam where polling was held for the first phase of Municipal election on October 8, 2018. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

The entire old city observed a complete strike. In certain areas like Jamia Masjid, Nowhatta and the Rajouri Kadal there were only cops and paramilitary men visible.

What was interesting was that private transport plied all along in the city. In fact, the movement between Srinagar city and Budgam was normal. Budgam had just one ward for the contest and it polled 17 per cent.

Humhama, one of the major wards of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation witnessed a very low poll.

There were only three wards that went to polls in Srinagar. All the three wards were on the fringes of the city, all the three bordering Budgam. There were four polling stations in a school building. The security arrangements were frightening and unprecedented.

In the first three hours, there were not even five votes. The ward is witnessing a contest between two young women – Nazia Yousuf of Congress and Shazia Khan of BJP. It was their personal efforts that some of the voters turned up later in the afternoon. They pleaded the media to move away because some of their supporters are unwilling to come in presence of the media.

Till 4 pm, however, the two women could barely manage 24 votes. They might have added up to the number later but it is not known. The ward has 3288 votes listed and registered. Both the ladies said they are winning.

Nazia told reporters that she has been a corporator earlier in 2005 and know the ground situation and the nitty-gritty of the grassroots politics. Both of them, however, said they did not get the kind of security they require. “I was sent to stay in a hotel and later my father said it is not a good place and he took me home,” one of the two women said.

The situation was almost similar in Bagh-e-Mehtab, another Srinagar ward. There was a small incident of stone pelting as well.

In Srinagar, the better vote story was in Bemina belt in Hamdaniya Colony where a better number of people came out and polled. The credit, according to locals, must go to the PDP rebel Molvi Imran Ansari who has some influence in certain areas. In Srinagar, it was the Hamdaniya Colony that proved interestingly different. Of the 1862 votes that Srinagar polled, 1797 were polled in Hamdaniya Colony alone.

The official said the polling percentage in the three Srinagar wards was 6.2 per cent. They added that the figures were up to 4 pm, which may vary.

Modest In Baramulla

In Baramulla, the exercise was completely peaceful. A senior officer said 1340 voters came out and participated against the registered 26000 plus votes. “We have 21 wards and in six, the results were out already for lack of contest,” the officer said. “In the 15 wards elections were held and in four of them the crowds could be seen.”

On the first phase of municipal polls on October 8, 2018, a paramilitary man is standing guard in main Srinagar city that witnessed sort of a curfew. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

The old town remained on boycott while as the new town actually participated. “The problem here was lack of choice because the political parties stayed away,” the officer said. “Kupwara and Handwara witnessed some kind of contest because the people had a choice as the local parties participated. That advantage was not available to us in Baramulla.”

Baramulla registered a participation of 5.1 per cent. Residents said the army had thrown a sort of a siege around the town.

Barely In Bandipore

In the run-up to the Municipal polls, it seemed Bandipore was better. The BJP, that has a local office, would use the social media to communicate with the voters. But on the polling day, it did not do anything at all. Officials in Srinagar said only 3.4 per cent votes were poling in the 16 stations that went to polls.

Jammu came out in huge numbers to participate in the first phase of municipal elections across Jammu and Kashmir. Pic: DIPR

The highlight was the case of a BJP candidate Adil Buhru who used the social media, to convey the happenings? He said he had gone to cast his vote in ward 2 and after he poled his vote, he was attacked outside by stone pelters. Some of the stones hit his dead and left him injured. “I do not know who and how they bundled me into the car and sped away,” he said in a video, showing him with his head in the bandage. “My Scorpio car was also damaged.”

There were altercations between rival parties in Kupwara and Bandipore. One female with pellet injuries was admitted to SMHS and she was from Bandipore. This north Kashmir township reported the lowest polling from Kashmir on Monday. Minor stone pelting incidents were reported from Bandipore, Sopore, Machua, and Panzan in Budgam.

Bandipore had 17 wards and in one, no nomination had come. All others were contested. The overall participation was 573 – 368 males and 205 females, against a total registered vote er population of 16953. In four wards, votes were in single digit, and in one ward of Lankreshpora, it was a decent three digit. All others got votes in two-digits only.

Good Votes

Kupwara where all the 13 wards had a contest, seven polling booths were housing in one school building and the rest of the stations were scattered. In certain areas where not many voters turned up, official’s restricted media access, unlike other stations, reports reaching from border Kupwara said.

Officials told Kashmir Life that against 4680 votes in all the 13 wards of Kupwara, 1713 actually came to the polling stations and exercised their right to participate. This makes a participation of 36.55, the highest from Kashmir.

A Kashmir Life staffer said that the security was unprecedented. “There were many times more the security men deployed than the voters,” he said on phone. “There was not any law and order problem and the entire exercise was peaceful.”

In neighbouring Handwara, reports said 1216 votes were polled against the registered voters of 4376. There were seven wards which had been won by candidates in absence of an opposition. The elections were held in six wards only. The overall percentage was 27.78 per cent. Reports said some female votes helped in getting more women out to cast their votes. BJP was also in the contest.

Sajjad Lone Speaks

Sajjad Lone drove from Srinagar to cast his vote. He talked to media too. “Peoples Conference boycotted for 25 years and we experienced its costs,” Lone told reporters. “Let National Conference and PDP boycott for another 25 years the way we did it.”

“Let National Conference and PDP ask its MLAs and MPs to quit their seats in state assembly and parliament. They will come to know the final outcome of boycott politics,” Lone was quoted saying by a local news gathering agency. “There are other ways of boycott, what is the fun of asking poor people to boycott votes when there are other ways of boycotting.” He said the NC and PDP must boycott the bungalows they are living in, the Constituency Development Fund they are spending and the saaries they are talking home. “Why boycott the votes of the poor people,” Lone said, insisting it is the basic right of the people to choose their representatives to improve the towns.

Official Count

An official spokesman quoted the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Shaleen Kabra saying that the overall polling percentage across the State in the 1st phase of Municipal Polls-2018 was recorded at 56.7 per cent.

Rajouri polled 81 percent, Poonch 73.1 percent, Jammu 63.8 percent, Leh 55.2 percent and Kargil 78.2 percent.

Normally, the CEO addresses the media when the polling is over. Today, the process was skipped for unknown reasons.

Information collected from various districts suggested that a total of 7058 voters came out across Kashmir in the first phase to exercise their right of franchise. This may eventually make eight per cent participation. These include 1862 voters in Srinagar, 109 in Budgam, 119 in Anantnag, 1465 in Baramulla, 1713 in Kupwara, 573 in Bandipore and 1216 in Handwara. “This is slightly less than Leh where 7810 voters came out to choose their municipal representatives,” a journalist in Srinagar said. “Kargil had as many as 4743 voters participating in the excise.”

But what was great about today’s exercise was the day passed off incident free.

JRL Response

Joint Resistance Leadership comprising Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik issued a statement that “appreciated people’s rejection and boycott of the sham ULB elections” which was “forcibly held” by the Government of India.

“They said that this election has violated the very definition of the democratic process, making a mockery of it as the identity of the contesting public representatives are not known to the public nor the area going to polls,” a spokesman quoted the separatist triumvirate saying. “Secrecy manipulation and bribery are the hallmarks of this twisted exercise.”

The spokesman said the “farcical exercise” was in reality “a military operation” and people dismissed it. “Leadership said that in all other phases of this electoral drama people will continue to stay away from the farce and will observe protest shutdown in their respective areas on the poll dates,” he added.

NC Statement

National Conference said that ongoing ULB polls have turned out to be an exercise in waste as the first phase of polling has witnessed a record low poll percentage in the valley with as many as 215 candidates getting elected unopposed with 177 wards having no candidates.

A scene outside the polling station in Kokernag on October 8, 2018, when the first phase of municipal polls was held in Jammu and Kashmir. KL Image: Shah Hilal

In a statement party Spokesperson, Imran Nabi Dar said that the whole process has been superimposed on the state without taking into consideration the ground realities. “It is an inconsiderate exercise to hold ULB polls in the valley. The institutions of the state are being bulldozed and played with just to satiate the arrogance of those who continue to target the states special status and doesn’t want normalcy to return to the state,” he said. “Elections are like festivals of democracy which induce new life in a nation’s life but the ongoing polls have cast a shadow on the very roots of democracy in the state.”

Termed the exercise a ‘crude joke’, Dar said in most of the wards people simply don’t know who is contesting because the contestants are putting up in guarded hotels within Srinagar and other areas. “They have not even gone into their areas seeking votes. Even the names of the candidates were never released by the election commission. Is this what their idea of democracy is?” he said.

“If we compare the figures of last Panchayat elections held in the state in 2011, the poll percentage in the ongoing ULB polls is its pale shadow,” Dar said. “In 2011 Panchayat polls saw over 80 per cent polling in the valley.”

(Saima Bhat contributed from Srinagar and Tahir Bhat from Kupwara)

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