The state of Jammu and Kashmir is set for the Panchayat polls as all arrangements have been put in place for the first phase on Saturday.
According to officials, 427 candidates are in the fray for 536 Sarpanch Halqas and 5,951 candidates for 4,048 Panch wards for the first phase of the Panchayat polls, as reported by news agency PTI. They said polling will be held in six districts of the Kashmir Valley, two in Ladakh and seven districts in the Jammu region.
Speaking to news agency ANI, Army's northern command chief Lt Gen Ranbir Singh said, "Panchayat polls are an integral part of our democratic process. We are hopeful to have a secure environment and people should be able to come out to vote in a free and frank manner."
The officials said 170 candidates are in the fray for 64 Sarpanch Halqas and 762 for 498 Panch wards in Kupwara district, while 21 candidates for 20 Sarpanch Halqas and 81 for 146 Panch wards in Bandipora district. In Baramulla district, 148 candidates are in the fray for 63 Sarpanch Halqas and 630 for 497 Panch wards.
Eleven candidates for 15 Sarpanch Halqas and 21 for 105 Panch wards in Ganderbal district, six candidates for five Sarpanch Halqas and nine for 45 Panch wards in Srinagar and 35 candidates for 26 Sarpanch Halqas and 124 for 222 Panch wards in Budgam district are contesting the polls in the first phase.
In Kargil, 51 candidates for 23 Sarpanch Halqas and 225 for 179 Panch wards, while in Leh, 64 candidates for 32 Sarpanch Halqas and 207 for 226 Panch wards are in the fray, the officials said.
In Kishtwar district, 107 candidates for 50 Sarpanch Halqas and 494 for 358 Panch wards are in the fray, the officials said, adding that 190 candidates for 52 Sarpanch Halqas and 626 for 364 Panch wards are in the fray in Doda district.
The officials said 89 candidates for 27 Sarpanch Halqas and 337 for 195 Panch wards in Ramban district and 162 candidates for 42 Sarpanch Halqas and 779 for 332 Panch wards in Udhampur district are contesting the polls.
In Kathua district, 114 candidates are in the fray for 29 Sarpanch Halqas and 450 for 209 Panch wards, while 121 candidates for 35 Sarpanch Halqas and 469 for 253 Panch wards in Rajouri district.
The officials said 162 candidates for 53 Sarpanch Halqas and 736 for 419 Panch wards in Poonch district are contesting the polls.
After boycotting the municipal and panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference (NC) said the party would contest the state Assembly election to prevent the BJP from "installing its proxies via the backdoor".
"The (NC) working committee decision to stay away from polls was limited to ULB (urban local body) and panchayat elections. The decision had nothing to do with the assembly or Parliament elections. We will fight to win the forthcoming elections so as to defend Article 35 A/Article 370 and to prevent the BJP from installing its proxies via the backdoor as they have started doing," said party provincial president Nasir Aslam Wani.
He was responding to Union minister Jitendra Singh's statement that the NC owed an explanation to the people of the state for its "U-turn" on Article 35A.
"Even if we wanted to boycott the forthcoming elections, people would pressurise us to fight. They are watchful of the BJP and its sequacious henchmen, and in such an uncertain situation, the people would want us to put up a strong front against the contriving RSS and its servile proxies," Wani said.
The NC leader said the party took a stand to stay away from the municipal and panchayat elections in wake of the "vacillating approach" of the Centre towards Article 35A and Article 370. "We have already requested (J&K) Governor S P Malik to plead for the deferment on next hearing of Article 35A in the Supreme Court till the formation of a popular government in the state. And, he has principally agreed to our suggestion."
"The assertions of Dr Singh are reflective of the jittery that BJP and its proxies in Kashmir are facing," he said.
Wani said the BJP, in spite of a poor front put up by the Congress party and the non-participation of local parties, had to content with just four municipal wards in Srinagar.
"The very thought of us participating in the elections has unnerved them. And our endeavour shall be to resist any machinations of the RSS and its proxies in the state. People would never want us to let these forces, who are inimical to states' special status, make inroads in the state.
"My advice to Dr Singh would be to stop being panicky and remember that the next elections will be a fight, not a one-sided walkover," he added.
The PDP and the CPI(M) have announced to stay away from the electoral exercise due to the legal challenge to Article 35-A of the Constitution in the Supreme Court. While separatists have called for a boycott of the polls, militants have threatened to target anyone taking part in these elections.