Preparations are on in full swing for the first elections in Jammu and Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370 and reorganisation of the erstwhile state with political parties making the last last-ditch efforts to woo voters.
The first-ever district development council (DDC) elections will be held in eight phases to elect 280 members in 20 districts from November 28 to December 22. In the absence of an elected government in the union territory, these councils are set to become a new unit of governance in the region.
Along with the DDC polls, eight-phased polling will be held for by-elections to 230 urban local bodies (ULB) and 12000 panchayat seats.
Major regional parties National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which boycotted the panchayat polls in 2018, have plunged into the electoral battleground under the banner of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD).
The BJP and the Congress are also campaigning in various constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir. While the BJP has deployed union ministers and central leaders as its star campaigners, only local Congress leaders are campaigning.
The state election commission (SEC) and chief electoral officer (CEO) have issued all notifications for the elections to the DDCs, panchayats and ULBs.
“The notifications have been issued for the DCC and other elections. preparations have been made for holding free and fair polls,” a election officer said.
The process of deployment of staff, training and other requirements is almost complete.
Police say elaborate security measures have been done for incident-free polls and more security companies are being brought to Jammu and Kashmir for the poll process.
“We have made elaborate security arrangements for polls and candidates besides the campaigning process,” a senior police officer said, adding security is being reviewed as per requirements.
While campaigning in various constituencies in districts of Jammu division has gathered momentum with roadshows, door-to-door meetings and public rallies being witnessed, in Kashmir, it is a low key affair due to security reasons.
BJP has deployed Union ministers Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Jitendra Singh and Anurag Thakur besides national general secretary Tarun Chug and national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.
Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi addressed an election meeting in Kupwara on November 19 while BJP national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain visited Srinagar on Friday. Union minister Anurag Thakur has been on campaign trail in Jammu and BJP general secretary Tarun Chug has addressed rallies in Samba and Kathua districts during the past few days.
According to the JK BJP, leaders like Smriti Irani, Krishan Pal Gujjar, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ and Rajya Sabha member Zafar Islam are expected to join the campaign.
The BJP has made the issue of alleged land encroachments by former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah and other leaders of the Gupkar alliance a major poll plank while reaching out to certain communities including Muslims and Gujjars.
The BJP has planned digital rallies and door-to-door campaigning as well as social media campaigns by employing around 800 IT people in most of the districts, a party leader said.
However, the opposition has accused the BJP of forcing them to keep their campaigning a low key affair due to lack of security.
Nasir Aslam Wani, NC provincial president, claimed that PAGD candidates have been “locked up” in hotels and guesthouses in several places and are not allowed to campaign.
Head of the Gupkar alliance and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah gave a video call message to people and appealed them to vote for its candidates.
“I want to appeal to you to vote for alliance candidates. If we have to be successful, then we have to vote for the alliance.This alliance has been formed to restore special status – Article 370 and Article 35-A. We have come together to keep this state united,” the NC chief said.
“It is my urgent request to you not to vote for anyone else and come out in large numbers and vote for the alliance candidates,” he said.
PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is campaigning for the alliance candidates in south Kashmir and has addressed some meetings too.
On Wednesday, she visited Shopian district to campaign for her candidate at Zainapora and said “The BJP is feeling unnerved over the PAGD’s decision of joining the DDC poll fray and that was why our candidates are barred from going for campaigning.”
She claimed the PAGD’s Zainapora candidate was not allowed to come out of his home for campaigning for the past 15 days.
The Congress alleged that the security of its former MLA Hajir Rashid of Sopore was withdrawn. “How can he campaign in such a high terror ridden area. It is a deliberate attempt to prevent us from campaigning,” a Congress spokesperson told PTI.
He said that they have brought the matter to election authority but nothing has been done. “That is why our campaigning is very low key. This is the fate of other opposition parties too,” he said.
Officials said over 50 public meetings, door-to-door meetings, road shows and other functions have been held in Jammu and Kashmir during the past one week.
Newly-formed Jammu and Kashmir Apani Party (JKAP) is contesting elections for the first time.
Its president Syed Altaf Bukhari said the youth of Jammu and Kashmir have been always swayed by misleading slogans of political parties, which is why they are unhappy with the present system.