Security forces are everywhere but not so easily found are political workers. (File)
A short drive from Srinagar, the district of Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir was once the once the bastion of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s family. It is now considered among the most volatile regions in the valley. Security forces are everywhere but not so easily found are political workers.
Syed Mohammad Lateef, senior leader of the People’s Democratic Party in Pulwama ran successful campaigns for his party in the past but couldn’t find candidates this time for the upcoming local body elections.
“Everybody is scared, nobody wants to contest elections because people of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir are extremely angry. They think central government is their enemy and not their friend,” said Mr Lateef.
The PDP, led by former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, announced on Monday that that it will not take part in the local body elections due to an ongoing case in the Supreme Court challenging Article 35A – a law that gives natives of Jammu and Kashmir special rights and privileges – and the centre’s opinion that the case should be heard after the elections. The move came days after the state’s other big party – the National Conference announced a boycott for the same reason.
Further up from Pulwama, into the Anantnag district, in a local housing colony heavily guarded by the police, a group of political workers have sought refuge. The reason is not hard to fathom. Sixteen officials of the village council – panchs and sarpanchs – have been reportedly killed in the last four years.
“People are sad, their political rights have been curbed. That’s why people are not interested to take part in the panchayat polls. Though basically panchayat elections form the foundation of a democracy,” said Ghulam Nabi Bhat, former sarpanch from the National Conference.
The arrest of the father of a self-styled Hizbul Mujahideen “commander” and subsequent kidnappings of relatives of policemen last month has increased the sense of insecurity.
“Sarpanch has a team of nine people with him in a village. They can’t give security to us, how can they give security to nine people? This is a bluff. I think this is the reason people have started hating it and are not ready for it,” said Inayat Ul lah Rather, former Sarpanch from the Congress party.
But there are those who are ready to take the plunge. Mohi-ud-din Shabnum, a local Anantnag politician, said taking part in Panchayat polls is best for Kashmir.
“If we won’t take part in the elections, everybody will sit on our heads, you know who are those people,” he said. “It is very important for us to contest the polls because if I don’t contest then a renegade or a surrendered militant will occupy the space. I am now saying openly, they are ready,” said Mr Shabnam.
While the panchayat polls will be a test of the security environment for the assembly and parliamentary elections in the state, political parties will also be watching it carefully to gauge the sentiment of the people on the ground.