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    Posted on 03 Dec 2012

    Despite threat, Panchayat members turn-out in huge numbers to vote

    Members say they voted in large numbers to assert their presence on the political scene of Valley

    Riyaz Wani

    Indian Security forces personnel stand alert during the elections for the four seats of Legislative Council of Jammu & Kashmir at Ganderbal in Central Kashmir on Monday

    Photos: Faisal Khan

    In a rebuff to the militant outfits who had called on them to resign from their posts, an overwhelming number of panches and sarpanches on Monday 3 December voted to elect candidates for the four Legislative Council seats under the Panchayat quota. The polls for these seats were held after a gap of 38 years.

    The polls for these seats were held after a gap of 38 years

    Polling continued through the day across the state with long queues of panches and sarpanches waiting outside polling booths to cast their vote. In Chadoora block in central Budgam district there was around 95 percent polling. The block has 338 panchayat representatives, out of which, only eight panches didn’t cast their vote.

    “Our objective to participate in these polls was to assert our presence on the political scene of Valley,” the sarpanch and convenor of J&K Panchayat Raj Movement Shahnawaz Sultan told TEHELKA. “Now we want government to take steps to empower us. Around 80 percent population of the state voted to get us elected last year. Now people expect us to usher in development at the grassroots level”.

    However, Sultan insisted that Panchayat system in the state was primarily about local self-government. “Panchayat representatives don’t reinforce any particular political narrative on Kashmir. Our job is grassroots development, nothing else. Kashmir problem is there and needs resolution. We have no role here,” Sultan said.

    The polling was preceded by a bitter high-voltage campaign between the ruling coalition and the Opposition parties. Coalition partners Congress and National Conference ran a joint campaign with each party fielding two candidates. The main Opposition party PDP has fielded four and BJP three. In total, there are 37 candidates in the fray and four of them will be elected to Legislative Council by around 33,450 panchayat members, with 15,628 of them from Jammu division and 17,912 from Kashmir province.

    Counting of votes will be held on 6 December. The Electronic Voting Machines will be shifted from all district headquarters to Jammu and Srinagar on 4 and 5 December.

    The panchayat members had recently faced tough time following a call for their resignation by Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin in an interview to TEHELKA. Salahuddin had also called on them to boycott the Block Development Council polls to be held sometime in near future. This had triggered a spate of resignations by panches and sarpanches, forcing government to assure them of the security.

    But the overwhelming participation of panchayat members in the polls underlines recouping of their confidence – albeit most of them have tried to play down the political aspect of their role.

    “We cannot deny that we have a political role but we can say firmly that this role is not against any ideological cause,” says Ashaq Hussain, a sarpanch from Kupwara. “Kashmir is an issue and the presence or absence of panchayat members on the scene doesn’t change this fact.”

    Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
    [email protected]

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    Posted on 03 Dec 2012



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