Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kashmir: Kashmir villages go to polls amid threat of violence

Srinagar, India, April 13, IRNA - The first-phase of village council (Panchayat) polls are commencing in Kashmir today amid a boycott call from hardline leader Syed Ali Geelani.

Government says all necessary arrangements have been put in place including upgrading the security to ensure incident free elections of this scale being held first time in three decades.

As per the notification issued on March 18, eight blocks in Kashmir region will go to the polls on Wednesday.

More than 2,800 candidates are in the fray for the first phase of the Panchayat elections.

The poll exercise is said to be far bigger than the 2008 Assembly elections because it will be held in 16 phases spanning over two months. More than 5 million people will vote in 4,130 Sarpanch (council head) constituencies and 29,719 Panch (council member) constituencies in 122 blocks.

2008 Assembly polls followed the mass uprising against Indian rule that was triggered by a land row and interestingly the Panchayat polls were announced at the height of summer unrest that paralysed Kashmir for over five-months last year.

Leader of the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference Syed Ali Shah Geelani has made an appeal to the masses to boycott the polls as, according to him, an exercise conducted in the presence of one million troops had no meaning.

“Elections cannot be a substitute to the right to self determination. India has always used these polls as a tool to deceive the international community into believing that there is no need to hold a plebiscite here,” he said.

Senior minister and ruling party leader Ali Muhammad Sagar, however, believes these elections are being held in the interests of development and had no bearing on the pending Kashmir issue.

“This will entitle us to over Rs 1,000 crore in grants in the next five years.

More money will come from other schemes as these elections are a pre-requisite for that,” Sagar said.

The last general elections to the Panchayats were held in the year 2000-01 after a gap of 23 years through secret ballot but they were widely dubbed as “paper exercise” as more than half the seats had remained vacant and rest were elected unopposed in the face of boycott calls from the separatists.