At the heavily guarded Greenland Hotel in the uptown Rajbagh area of Srinagar, 20 panchayat representatives from different parts of Jammu and Kashmir talk about the necessity of holding elections. Chief electoral officer Shailendra Kumar’s recent notification for election of Block Development Council (BDC) chairpersons in 310 blocks—the first announcement of elections since the abrogation of the Articles 370 and 35A and bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two Union territories—has left regional parties stunned. Only panchayat members and sarpanches (elected heads) are eligible to vote in these polls—the last such exercise to be conducted before the order of bifurcation comes into force on October 31.
Many Kashmir observers and locals argue that the BDC polls will be similar to those held for panchayats in November-December 2018, which saw 2 per cent participation in the Valley. About 61 per cent of the panchayat seats are vacant as there were no candidates, and no polls were held for 12,054 seats. In the urban local body elections in October 2018, only 22 votes were cast in 20 municipalities across four south Kashmir districts—a 1.6 per cent turnout, the lowest ever.