Policemen pay tribute to three colleagues killed by Islamic militants in Jammu and Kashmir's Sopian on Sept. 21. Militants have threatened to attack candidates and voters who dare to participate in local body elections. (Photo by IANS)
India's strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir state is preparing for local government elections without publicly announcing the names of candidates because of threats by Islamic militants.
The militants have even been warning that they will throw acid over candidates and voters.
"Bring shrouds [for wrapping the dead] with you while filing nomination forms," Riyaz Naikoo, head of Hizbul Mujahideen, a Pakistan-based militant outfit, stated in an audio message.
The government has decided not to announce the names of candidates to help protect them from attacks, an official source said, seeking anonymity.
The state has had no public campaigning, with candidates instead verbally seeking votes through confidants.
Elections for 24 municipal bodies are scheduled to be conducted in two phases on Oct. 8 and Oct. 10 so that 4,500 villages can choose local leaders.
But media reports said that on Oct. 1, the deadline for nominations, some 60 percent of seats either had no candidate or had only one unopposed nominee, so no vote was required.
Ghulam Nabi Lone, a leader of the local Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP), said the federal government, led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is exploiting the situation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP was part of the state's coalition government until June 20 when it withdrew. The state is now subjected to presidential rule, de facto putting it under the BJP-led government in New Delhi.
Some parties, including the PDP, are staying away from the local polling process, citing security reasons.
Lone told ucanews.com on Sept. 29 that the non-announcement of the names of candidates could favor the BJP. "Who will contest the polls and who will vote for them?" he asked.
Riyaz Ahmad, one of many government employees tasked with election duty, is worried. "My job is to monitor votes on Oct. 8 in the state capital and the booth could be attacked," Ahmad told ucanews.com.
Despite a federal government bonus of one month's salary, many state staffers are reluctant to man some 2,500 polling stations.
Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, who enjoys a large following in the state, said in a Sept. 28 statement that participation in the election would amount to betrayal and disrespect to the sacred blood of martyrs.
Geelani, who seeks freedom for Kashmir from Indian rule, wanted people to boycott the elections as they did in 2017.
BJP leader Ram Madhav, however, blamed the militants and separatists for creating fear among voters. Madhav told reporters on Sept. 28 that the federal government will brave all challenges and go ahead with the elections.
India claims neighboring Pakistan instigates militancy in Kashmir with the aim of annexing the Muslim-dominated region. But Pakistan has consistently dismissed the allegation as political rhetoric.
The conflict over Kashmir dates to 1947 when British rule ended. Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in full and have fought three wars over it, with a death toll of at least 100,000. Each nation now administers part of Kashmir.