The clouds of uncertainty are again hovering over the fate of Jammu and Kashmir panchayat and municipal elections after the two mainstream parties -- National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party -- decided to boycott the polls over the issue of Article 35A.
According to reports, the elections which were scheduled to be held in October-November are most likely to be deferred till January 2019.
Politicking over Article 35A led to poll delay
Ever since the petition seeking repeal of Article 35A was filed in the Supreme Court, the Kashmir valley has been on the edge with the mainstream as well as the separatist parties on the same page.
On one hand, the separatist parties and trader fraternities have called for valley wide shutdowns and demonstrations against the repeal of Article 35A, the mainstream parties like NC and PDP have also openly expressed strong revolt against any decision aimed at removing the said article.
Although the NC and PDP have clarified their stand on Article 35A, the Congress has remained tight-lipped over the controversial issue. Only the BJP has been on the forefront calling for the abrogation of Article 35A.
Sources told International Business Times, India, that the Kashmir centric political parties have already been alarmed by the ground workers that the locals are angry with the attempts to abrogate the Article 35A which will discredit the state citizens of special rights. As such, it is in the best interests of these parties to stay away from the Panchayat polls.
Poll delay a huge advantage to separatists?
The delay in these elections could be a huge win for separatist parties in the valley. This could also boost the morale of various militant outfits which have outrightly warned locals against contesting or voting in the local elections.
Riyaz Naikoo, the commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, had earlier released a voice message warning people of being ready to face the consequences if they contest or vote in the elections.
Threat perception among locals driving them away from polls
In 2011, the voter turnout was nearly 80 per cent as the situation on the ground was comparatively normal. However, since then 16 elected members of the Panchayat have been killed and more than 30 injured by the militants which led to the resignations of Sarpanches (village heads) and Panches (head of a village ward).
The worsening law and order scenario, especially in South Kashmir, coupled with the recruitment of increasing number of local youth in various militant organizations have also scared people away from either contesting or voting in the elections.
"The situation is not the same as in 2011. I belong to Shopian district where encounters between the local militants and security forces is an everyday story now. My participation in any kind of polls would put me and my family in huge danger especially when there are so many local killings happening," Muhammad Iqbal (name changed), a Sarpanch from Shopian, told IBTimes.
He said that the distrust of the locally elected Panchayat members and the state governments has grown manifold especially when the successive governments have failed to provide adequate security to the panches and sarpaches.
"It appeared to us that these local body polls were held just to showcase normalcy in the state and not to strengthen the administration at the grassroot level. Only MLAs and MLCs got all the perks whereas the rest of us had to endanger our lives for a few thousand rupees," Iqbal added.
Dismal voter turnout in past elections
Since 2011, both the central and the state governments have been reluctant in holding these elections again in the state considering the worsening law and order situation.
The delay in the conduct of the Anantnag bypoll, which is the longest by-poll delay over last two decades in the country, has already served a huge advantage to the militant and separatist organizations in the state. Even for Srinagar constituency bypoll , the voter turnout was a dismal 6 percent in 2017.
The BJP-PDP government's nervousness in conducting the Panchayat polls was evident when it earlier announced that the elections would be conducted in February but were again deferred in the wake of deteriorating law and order situation on the ground.