Panchayat Polls: People Optimistic, Contestants Enthusiastic12 April 2011
Kupwara: With the process for the conduct of Panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir starting tomorrow, after almost a decade, the mood is no different from the Assembly elections held in 2008 in this ‘model village’ of north Kashmir’s frontier district. From a contestant to a labourer, shopkeeper and a government employee, everybody hopes that the constitution of Panchayats would change their life for better and make the government accountable. “The elections will bring development to our village,” says Shabir Ahmad Peer, who is contesting from ward-88-B of Dragmulla for Sarpanch post. His election symbol is a stick. A local contractor, Peer has been campaigning for more than a month. “I am contesting to bring development to my village. We will have good roads, and continuous supply of drinking water and electricity,” he argues as he prepares to meet a group of his supporters. A long hoarding at the entrance of the village reads Dragmulla is a model village. But the condition of roads and the woes of people speak otherwise. “More than Rs 1 crore was sanctioned for development of this village. But there is no impact on the ground,” says Muzaffar Ahmad, a teacher in a private school in the village. More than 2,800 candidates would try their luck for election as Panchs and Sarpanchs in the first phase of the 16-phase polls to be held in Kupwara, Kangan, Budgam and Qaimoh Tuesday. As the number of candidates has swelled so has the number of election symbols varying from a scissor to camera and a stick. Peer is contesting against two other locals, besides 24 persons would be pitted against each other for the berth of Panchs. In Dragmulla-C groups of people sitting at shop fronts and on roadsides are busy discussing the polls. Six candidates are contesting for Sarpanch berth. “More than 20 people of the ward with a population of around 250 inhabitants are contesting for Panch. The number of candidates aspiring to be Sarpanch is six. Given the numbers the voting would be on the higher side,” says Muhammad Ramzan, a farmer and an aspiring Panch. “There are scores of development schemes which are never allowed to reach the grassroots level. Entire system will change after Panchayat elections,” says Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, another candidate from Dragmulla-C. From farmers to contractors to private schools teachers and even labourers everybody is trying his-her luck in the polls here. Though the elections are being held on non-party basis, locals argue that political parties like National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, Congress and Peoples Conference have fielded their candidates. In Kupwara block, which witnessed heavy turnout in 2008-09 Assembly elections and parliamentary elections, 999 candidates are standing in contest. Similarly 204 and 795 candidates are standing for Sarpanch and Panch berths respectively. In Central Kashmir Budgam block around 701 persons are fighting polls with 151 and 550 nominees in race for the berths of Sarpanch and Panch. Similarly in Kulgam’s Qaimoh block, 345 candidates are in fray while 182 candidates have filed forms in another portion of this block falling under jurisdiction of Islamabad (Anantnag) district. In Kangan block, 611 candidates are contesting. Despite, the Panchayat elections being held on non-party basis, all the major political parties have fielded their own men to strengthen their base at grassroots level. More than 50 lakh electors will cast their vote for Panchayat Election-2011. Around 29,000 polling stations would be set up for conducting the elections. The polls will end in June 2011. Last time, according to the government version the elections were held in 2001-02. However people here say the lections are being held after more than 2 decades.