Srinagar: As Jammu and Kashmir is voting in the first of the four-phased municipal elections after a hiatus of 13 years, voters in Jammu are queuing up at polling stations, but staying away in Kashmir. Brisk voting was observed in almost all the wards in Jammu region with Rajouri registering the highest votes, but only seven per cent voters turned up in Kashmir till 2 pm. Amid shutdown called by separatists in the Valley, streets were deserted and voting remained abysmal in Srinagar, Bandipora, Baramulla and other areas. Two key parties in the state -- the National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti's People's Democratic Party (PDP) -- have abstained from the elections over the centre's stand on Article 35-A, making it a contest between the BJP and the Congress. Terrorists had killed two National Conference workers on Friday and threatened against participating in the polls. The situation has remained peaceful so far, police said.
Here are the 10 points on the civic polls:
- Amid threats from terrorist groups, and separatist-called shutdown, elaborate security arrangements are in place to ensure peaceful polls. Mobile internet services have been suspended in south Kashmir for the voting. In other parts of the Kashmir Valley, the internet speed has been reduced, said officials.
- In the first phase, voting is on in 422 of the state's 1,145 municipal wards. As many as 2,990 candidates are in the fray for the elections, which will end on October 16. Separatists have appealed to people to boycott the elections.
- Voting is underway at 820 polling stations across the state -- 670 in Jammu and 150 in Kashmir. In Kashmir, 138 polling stations have been categorised as hypersensitive. The total electorate for the first phase is 5,86,064, an official said.
- Around 240 candidates have already been elected unopposed and a majority of them are from Kashmir. The BJP said that it has got control over seven municipal committees in the Valley as 75 of its nominees have been elected unopposed.
- While the candidates have extensively campaigned in Jammu and Ladakh regions, the campaigning has been a low-key affair in the Valley amid threats from terrorists groups and boycott calls by separatists and political parties abstaining from the elections.
- The elections for the urban local bodies -- over which the National Conference has a strong hold -- were last held in 2005 through secret ballots. This time, the National Conference and the PDP have pulled out over the challenge to Article 35-A in the Supreme Court. The PDP, whose alliance with the BJP ended in June, said under the circumstances, the centre's insistence on holding the election would be a "mockery" of the democratic process.
- The Article 35A defines permanent residents of the state and excludes outsiders from owning property and getting benefits including government jobs. Passed through a Presidential order in 1954, the Article has been challenged in Supreme Court, which deferred the hearing to January after a request from the centre, which cited the local bodies' elections. Not only the PDP and the National Conference, the rest of Kashmir Valley also shares the anxiety.
- The centre has made elaborate security arrangements for the elections, pushing in 400 companies of paramilitary forces or 40,000 personnel in addition to massive security deployment the Valley already has. Governor Satya Pal Malik, who had been tasked with holding the elections peacefully, had made a detailed review of the security situation on Saturday.
- Governor Malik also took a dig at National Conference president and former Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, who had said that there would be least public participation in polls given the situation on the ground. "With how much voter turnout did he win the Lok Sabha bypoll?" Governor Malik asked. Dr Abdullah was elected in the by-election for the Srinagar Lok Sabha consistency with less than seven per cent voter turnout last year.
- The government has declared it a holiday in areas where polling is being held to ensure maximum voter turnout. The second phase of the elections will be held on October 10, the third phase on October 13 and the last phase on October 16. Counting of votes will take place on October 20.
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