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Jammu and Kashmir council polls acid test for coalition

Posted on Nov 28, 06:11PM | IANS

As Jammu and Kashmir gears up for elections to the four seats in the 36-member legislative council Dec 3, campaigning is at its peak with each party trying to consolidate its position in the upper house.

Even the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference (JKPC) has withdrawn its call to boycott the polls. JKPC chairman Shafiq Mir said: "The organisation (legislative council) stands for the democratic principles of the Indian constitution. Hence, and for the sake of larger democracy, we are withdrawing the boycott."

However, he clarified that JKPC would not support any particular group or individual and asked panchayats and panches to vote for whoever they wanted to.

Of the 36 seats in state legislative council, six -- four from the panchayat quota and two from local bodies -- are lying vacant since the last panchayat polls in 2011.

Thirty-seven candidates are contesting from Jammu region and Kashmir valley, including a big chunk of independents.

The electorate for the council polls comprises 33,540 elected panches and sarpanches (village council members and heads), with 15,628 in Jammu region and 17,912 in the Kashmir Valley. Votes would be cast through electronic voting machines (EVM) at 286 polling booths. Votes would be counted Dec 6.

Each panchayat member would cast two votes: one each for two candidates of the area.

Though the 2011 panchayat polls were held on non-party basis, "political parties did back their candidates", said Rekha Choudhary, professor of the political science in Jammu University.

She added: "Now each party is trying to consolidate their position in the upper house where the candidate's term would be of six years."

Amir Tantray, a political analyst, said: "These elections will present the report card of the National Conference (NC) and Congress coalition in the run-up to the 2014 state assembly elections."

However, Choudhary disagrees: "The report card of the government is given directly by voters and not by just 33,540 panchayat members."

Over 80 percent voters had cast votes in the panchayat elections.

CPI(M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said: "Most importantly, the institution of the panchayat is getting representation in the upper house."

He said: "The chief minister had said in the assembly that Block Development Council (BDC) elections would be held on a priority, but they were cancelled just two days after his announcement."

BDC elections were announced Oct 3 for 143 blocks to be held Nov 7 and results were to be declared the same day.

Elections to local bodies have also not been held yet.

Ten panchayat members, including panches and sarpanches, have been killed by militants in the state since June 2011. The continuing threat of militants forced about 600 panches and sarpanches to resign in the state.

Syed Salahudin, chairman of United Jihad Council (UJC), had said in a interview to a media group: "Our real concern is that panchayats are projected as a referendum on Kashmir. New Delhi advertises the participation in panchayat polls as another instance of Kashmiris reposing their faith in India."

He added: "Panches and sarpanches are exploited by India to project Kashmir as pro-India and they will continue to be targetted, no matter how much the government tries to protect them. This is why we call on them to resign from and not allow themselves to be used to undermine the liberation movement in Kashmir."

The last panchayat quota legislative council elections were held in 1974.