The first phase of local body elections in J&K starts October 8 but there’s no campaigning, no door-to-door canvassing, no poll rally in the Valley. Even the names of candidates who have filed nomination papers or their political affiliations are not being disclosed.
Officials cite “security reasons” for the veil of secrecy over the conduct of the “faceless” poll process, especially in the troubled south of the Valley. They say disclosure of candidate details will make them vulnerable to threats, even endanger lives.
So far, 851 candidates have filed nomination papers for seats in 598 wards and 40 municipal bodies in the Valley. Across J&K, 1145 seats are up for grabs in 79 municipal bodies and a total of 3005 candidates are in the fray.
The PDP and National Conference, two big parties in the state, are boycotting the polls while the BJP, Congress and Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference are in the fray. In the Valley, there will probably be no contest for 60 per cent of the seats.
Of the 598 wards in the Valley, not a single nomination paper has been filed in 172 wards and there is only one candidate in 190 wards, ensuring there is no voting. Of the 40 municipal bodies in the Valley, there will be no voting in at least 21 municipal bodies. There will, however, be a tight contest for 74 wards of the Srinagar municipal corporation. Officials said 310 candidates have filed nomination papers for the Srinagar wards.
J&K Chief Electoral Officer Shaleen Kabra told The Indian Express that after the last date of nominations, it is mandatory for returning officers to paste details of contesting candidates on notice boards outside their offices.
But let alone pasting lists for public viewing, returning officers say they have clear instructions not to reveal details about candidates who have filed nomination papers.
“We have clear verbal orders in this regard. We have been told it will compromise the safety and security of candidates,” a returning officer in south Kashmir said.
Bandipore Deputy Commissioner Shahid Choudhary told The Indian Express that he has publicised the names of candidates contesting for the Bandipore municipality. “In the case of Hajin and Sumbal, we have not released names. The security situation there (Hajin and Sumbal) does not allow us (to reveal names),” he said.
A candidate from Baramulla told The Indian Express: “We have been asked to keep a low profile. We have been asked not to speak to the media.”
Asked about it, Baramulla Deputy Commissioner Nasir Naqash said: “There are some issues. The issue of security as well as some other issues.”
An official at the election office said the government does not want candidates targeted by militants. “The nomination process is still on. In case, there is an attack on a candidate or the person is harmed, it will discourage other prospective candidates. Given the situation in the Valley, especially in south Kashmir, the safety and security of candidates is paramount,” the official said.
A candidate who has filed his nomination papers in Sopore does not want his name revealed. “I am a poor man. Please do not reveal my name. I have faced a lot of hardship in life. I want something and once I am settled, I will work for the poor. I know I am going to be elected unopposed,” he said.
There are, however, a few candidates like social activist Tauseef Raina who have stepped into the open after filing their papers.
“I believe in being straightforward. Honestly speaking, I was in no mood to contest these elections, but there were some people who asked me to do it. They told me that if educated people do not come forward, the corrupt will again hijack the system,” said Raina who is contesting in Baramulla. His brother and mother too are in the fray.