ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Panchayat Elections in Kashmir

A Paper Exercise

People's response to the panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which are being conducted in a phased manner since January this year, has differed depending on the political situation prevailing in different parts of the state. While the elections have evoked an enthusiastic response in many parts of Jammu and Ladakh, in Kashmir valley they have been virtually a paper exercise. Political processes and institutions in the valley suffer from a crisis of legitimacy. Panchayati institutions are perceived as a part of the existing structure of power that bears no relation to the aspirations and choices of people.

The panchayat elections that are being conducted in Jammu and Kashmir since January this year1 have been controversial from the beginning. The basis of the controversy lies in the timing of the announcement of these elections that coincided with the first extension of the ceasefire. This was the time when expectations about the active involvement of the AllParty Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in the peace process were very high. For many, therefore, these elections reflected the nervousness of the National Conference about the changing political situation in the state. The reluctant approval of the extension of the ceasefire by Farooq Abdullah and his scepticism about the role and representative character of the APHC had given rise to the perception that he was not very happy about the political developments in Kashmir. It was felt that through these elections he was eager to exercise control over politics at the grass roots level.

 The people’s response to the announcement of these elections, however, was quite indifferent. Besides the feeling that they might stall the process of dialogue, there was an apprehension that the elections would provoke the militant groups to step up their violent activities, thereby putting the whole peace process in jeopardy. Opposition parties, like the People’s Democratic Party, demanded the postponement of the elections. Questions of credibility and relevance of the elections were, meanwhile, raised by the militant and separatist groups. Terming the whole exercise as meaningless in the face of the unresolved political issues in Kashmir, the HizbulMujahideen and the APHC urged the people to boycott the elections.

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