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Stage set for Valley panchayat elections

Srinagar, April 12: Jammu and Kashmir will hold panchayat elections tomorrow, leaving behind the bitterness of last year’s summer unrest.

The election will be only the third in the history of rural polls in the state. It will take place amid boycott calls by separatists and renewed militant violence.

Officials today said this would be the first time that elections to all three tiers — gram panchayats, block and district development councils — were being held in 33 years.

“Last time a full-fledged election was held in the state in 1978 but it was only for two tiers. Elections in 2000-01 were not a full-fledged exercise,” rural development minister Ali Mohammad Sagar said.

The elections in 2000-01 were said to be a “paper exercise” as more than half the seats had remained vacant in the Valley and hundreds of candidates were elected unopposed in the face of boycott calls from the separatists.

That had prompted the new government, led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, to dissolve panchayats only a year later and announce fresh polls. But elections could not be held in the last 10 years.

The exercise would be far bigger than the 2008 Assembly polls because it will be held in 16 phases spanning over two months. More than 50 lakh people will vote in 4,130 sarpanch constituencies and 29,719 panch constituencies in 122 blocks.

Like the 2008 Assembly polls that followed the Amarnath land agitation, the panchayat polls come after last year’s five-month-long unrest.

Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani has asked the people to boycott the polls.

“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.

Sagar, however, said these elections were being held in the interests of development and had nothing to do with the 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.”

The minister said he expected the turnout to be greater than the 62 per cent polling reported in the 2008 Assembly elections.

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