Just weeks ahead of local elections in Jammu and Kashmir, panchayat offices are being set on fire in Jammu and Kashmir. In the last four days, eight panchayat offices have been set on fire. The police complaints or FIRs accuse only unnamed people and so far nobody has been arrested.
The centre is determined to go ahead with the polls despite boycott by the two main regional parties - National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party or PDP. But in an atmosphere of fear and threats, officials are worried.
In the first 48 hours of nominations opening for 422 municipal wards, not a single candidate has applied.
In an attempt to motivate candidates to contest these polls, the state has decided to provide Rs 10 lakh insurance cover to anyone who is willing to contest these polls.
Police say they will also give security to all the candidates and adequate security measures are being taken to ensure that polls are held smoothly.
"Additional deployment which is needed would also be put in place. Our job is to provide a conducive and safe environment where people can come and vote," said Dilbagh Singh, Director General of Police Jammu and Kashmir.
But in the absence of regional parties in these elections, there is serious challenge if people will come out to vote. Both the National Conference and the PDP have linked their participation in polls with the fate of Article 35A which has been challenged before the Supreme Court. They want the centre to take a firm stand on safeguarding the article which gives special privileges to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
"It is not about non-participation of PDP or NC. 35A is very close to our heart. Its Kashmir's issue. I don't think the situation will be peaceful if they try to fiddle with Article 35A," said Hilal Ahmad, a resident of Chadoora in Budgam district.
The strategy of ensuring safety is to hold the polls in small pockets and over several phases. While urban local body polls are being held in four phases from October 8, panchayat elections will be conducted in nine phases in November and December.
Its success is critical, given the security environment on test to check whether the state can hold assembly and parliament elections. It has already been three months since the PDP-BJP coalition government collapsed.
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