The elections to four seats of Legislative Council in Jammu and Kashmir will test the claims of ruling National Conference and opposition Peoples Democratic Party as to who enjoys more support among Panchayat members elected in the landmark polls last year.
Over 33,000 panches and sarpanches from all over the state will cast their votes tomorrow for electing four members to the Legislative Council two from Kashmir Division and two from Jammu Division.
The Panchayat elections were held on non-partisan basis last year after a gap of three decades but both NC and PDP claimed to have an upper hand in the results in Kashmir division.
The opposition party went to the extent of claiming that more than 50% of the panches and sarpanches were on its side and even displayed a muster which showed a large number of grass root level representatives as its members.
National Conference, on the other hand, made similar claims based on the data collected by Rural Development Department.
The result of the upcoming Legislative Council polls will be a litmus test for the claims of both the ruling and opposition parties ? at least in Kashmir Division, where they boast of mass support.
The National Conference is contesting the Legislative Council polls jointly with its ally in the state government, Congress. Both National Conference and Congress have fielded one candidate each in Kashmir and Jammu Divisions.
The PDP is contesting on all the four seats while BJP has fielded three candidates and is supporting an independent on the fourth seat from Kashmir. The other opposition party -- National Panthers Party (NPP) -- is also contesting all the four seats.
Although 37 candidates are in the fray for the four seats, it is expected to be a direct contest between the National Conference-Congress coalition and PDP on the two seats of the Valley while the ruling coalition will try to keep BJP, PDP and NPP at bay in the Jammu division.
Both the ruling coalition and opposition PDP have been vigorously campaigning among the panches and sarpanches.
Chief minister Omar Abdullah, deputy chief minister Tara Chand and senior leaders from their respective parties have held series of meetings with grass root level representatives since the elections were announced last month.
PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, party president Mehbooba Mufti and veteran leaders like Muzaffar Hussain Baig have led the opposition campaign among the panches and sarpanches across the state.
While the ruling combine has used the radio airwaves to further its campaign in the form of advertisements, the main opposition party in the state has come out with half page advertisements in leading local dailies seeking support for its candidates.
The all out campaign by the leading political parties has come in for criticism from smaller parties in the state, which feel that the real issue of empowerment of the Panchayats has been sidelined.
"The elections to the Legislative Council under Panchayat quota have been over politicised...the main and important issue should have been the empowerment of these institutions so that the democratic system at grass root level would have been strengthened," CPI(M) state secretary MY Tarigami and Peoples Democratic Forum Chairman Hakim Mohammad Yasin said in a joint statement.
They said though the conduct of Panchayat elections after a long gap is appreciable, as of now the process of establishment of Panchayati Raj system in essence is still incomplete.
"Panchayats were aimed to be the autonomous institutions of self governance at the grassroot level and the elections were conducted on non-party basis with a purpose not to divide the ranks on partisan lines. But the way the elections to the Council under Panchayat quota are being conducted does not seem to be encouraging," Tarigami and Yasin said.
The two leaders said they leave it to the judgement of Panchayat representatives to decide for themselves whom to vote as per their conscience.
"However, we reiterate our commitment to continue our struggle with other like-minded people for the genuine empowerment of these institutions.
"Democratic governance demands that sufficient opportunities shall have to be provided to the rural poor and other oppressed sections to ensure their participation in the power structure," they said.