February 2005 News

Civic Polls: Reasseration Of Democratic Process

18 February 2005
The Daily Excelsior
Ghazanfar Butt

Jammu: The successful conduct of the civic polls in Jammu and Kashmir has been one of the significant achievements of the Peoples Democratic Party-Congress coalition Government. It has also been a victory for the people of the State who have decided to ignore the threat by militant organizations not to participate in the elections The civic elections were held after a lapse of 27 years. The State Government was contemplating holding the elections to local bodies for over a decade. There was a school of thought which felt that civic elections should be held before the Parliament and Assembly elections in 1996. But many felt that if there was violence in the State during the civic elections, it would be very difficult to hold the Parliamentary or Assembly elections in 1996. The Central Government was keen that an elected Government should assume office in the State, the most appropriate authority to combat militancy was an elected Government. The holding of Parliamentary and Assembly election got priority and civic elections were deferred. Following the announcement of civic elections this year, the militant organizations in the State warned people not to take part in the polls. The Hizbul Mujahideen put up posters with warnings in several villages. Several outfits, including the Syed Ali Shah Geelani led All Parties Hurriyat Conference came out with a boycott call. Joining Geelani were the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, the Democratic Freedom Party and the United Jehad Council. The JKLF Chief Yasin Malik and the Democratic Freedom Party leader Shabbir Shah led processions asking people not to cast their vote. The Kashmir Bar Association and the Jamiat-e-Ahlihadees joined in the anti-poll campaign. Unlike the Parliament and Assembly elections in 1996 and 2002, there was little tension in the State during the civic elections this year. On hindsight, it looks as if the people had made up their mind to stand up to the militants. The consensus was that, time had come for the people to send a message to the authorities that they were ready to assume their democratic responsibilities. The Peoples' Democratic Party and the Congress, a part of the State Government which decided to hold the civic elections, were expected to participate in the polls. The BJP has been keen to make a good showing in the Jammu region to re-establish its claim to popularity which had received a drubbing during the Lok Sabha polls in 2004. In the Kashmir region, the National Conference had to demonstrate that it had a strong following among the people. The National Conference President Omar Abdullah said that 'conditions were hostile to us; still we have decided to take on Mufti Sayeed on the electoral turf'. The trend was set in the first phase of the polls in the north Kashmir districts of Baramullah and Kupwara. People came out with quiet determination to cast their votes which touched over 70 percent in many areas, as compared to less than five percent in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in 1996. 'These elections have nothing to do with the Kashmir problem. We came out to vote because we want an end to our day-to-day problems', said a voter in Sopore (Indian Express 30-1). The PDP- Congress combine emerged winner in the Baramullah and Kupwara districts. The decision of Omar Abdullah to participate in the polls turned out to be a right one. The National Conference secured 41 of the 68 seats in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation during the second phase of the elections. The Peoples' Democratic Party got 17 seats, while the Congress had to be satisfied with six and the independents won four. What was significant was that the voter participation had crossed 20 percent in Srinagar as compared to five percent in the Assembly elections in 2002. In Jammu, the Congress could win only 27 seats in the -71 member Municipal Corporation. None of the other major parties - the National Conference (6), BJP (25) or the PDP (2) were in a position to lead in the Jammu Corporation. The suspense ended when seven Independent Corporators decided to extend unconditional support to the Congress-PDP combine. In the third phase held in Pulwama and Anantnag the PDP and the Congress won a clear majority. Over 44 percent of the voters participated, the turnout of the voters being 34 percent in Anantnag and 55 per cent in Pulwama. The PDP made a clean sweep in the Municipal Committee of Shopian and Bijbehara. The PDP also gained control of the Anantnag Municipal Council bagging 11 of the 21 seats. In the fourth phase, voter turnout was 71 percent in Ganderbal, 81 per cent in Khansahib, 78 percent in Budgam, 68 percent in Magam and 65 percent in Charar-e- Sharief. The PDP secured Ganderbal and the Congress-PDP combine secured Charar-e-Sharief. In the next phase the Congress emerged as a single largest party in the Udhampur Municpal Committee securing 7 out of the 17 seats. BJP was a close second with six seats. In that phase, the Congress-PDP combine secured a majority in five civic bodies, the National Conference in two and the NPP in one. When the final counts are made, all the political parties in the State have established their dominance in certain parts of the State: the National Conference in Srinagar, People's Democratic Party and the Congress in the rest of Kashmir Valley, and the BJP and the Congress in the Jammu region. The successful holding of civic elections does not mean an end to violence. The elected member of the National Conference- Mohammad Maqbool Shah Khaksar - who was tipped to be the Mayor of Srinagar - was gunned down on February 8. The previous day, the elected member of the PDP of Beerwah Municipal Committee - likely to be elected the Chairman - Ghulam Mohiuddin Mir, was killed. Terrorists will try their best to frustrate the efficient functioning of the civic bodies. Govt. may thus have to provide security cover to the elected councillors and corporators. One expects that the State and Central Governments will delegate authority and resources to the local bodies to meet the expectations of the people. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh feels that 'the State can benefit immensely from revitalization of local Government and decentralization of administration'. The State of Jammu and Kashmir has demonstrated that it is possible to implement the democratic process in difficult conditions. One hopes that enough funds will be provided to the local bodies and they will be free to function efficiently. In the final analysis People of Jammu and Kashmir will give the most effective answer to the militants. The civic elections are a demonstration of the democratic process, and the assertion of the right to elect their representatives by the people. It is worthwhile recalling that militancy started in the State in the late eighties, following perceived manipulation of Assembly elections. With re-assertion of the free electoral process and effective functioning of representative democracy, people of Jammu and Kashmir will give the most effective answer to militants and terrorists. 2005 will then go down as a watershed in Jammu and Kashmir.


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