Elections

The Aadhaar Card mystery and the pseudo Panchayat candidates of South Kashmir

A 'candidate' holding her withdrawal forms.

When a father of three daughters from Chrar-e-Sharief lately wondered how his name surfaced in the Panchayat poll nomination list, many thought of it as a clerical error or some mischief. But when similar cases emerged from southern Kashmir’s Islamabad, many feared for their lives and ran pillar to post—seeking explanation from the authorities: ‘How come our names appeared in the list of nominees?’

On 19 November 2018, 45-year-old Dilshada Banoo rushed into Deputy Commissioner’s office in South Kashmir’s Islamabad district. She was looking for the election control room, running from one office to other. Amid sobs, she informed the officials that someone had filled a nomination form for Panchayat elections on her name.

Dilshada had left her home early in the morning—leaving behind her chores and children. Before contacting officials in Islamabad, she confirmed from Kokernag block, where she was told to contact the higher official in DC office, as her form ‘has been sent there’.

“My kids are waiting for me at home. I received information that my name is on the list of Panchayat election candidates. Will you please confirm it to me?” fretful Dilshada asked officials inside election control room in Islamabad.

“I’m an uneducated and simple housewife. Someone has cheated me!” she broke into tears.

The employees in the control room told Dilshada that she could withdraw her nomination from Khanabal office till 3 pm that day. “Today is the last day to withdraw your nomination,” officials told her.

A resident of Nagam village of South Kashmir’s Islamabad district, Dilshada ran frantically, having no idea how to reach the concerned office. After getting the direction from passersby, she reached the District Institute of Education and Training (DIET), where the officials were collecting the Panchayat election nominations.

After checking the list, the officials informed Dilshada that she had filled a nomination for Panchayat polls. She was utterly shocked and wanted to withdraw, come what may.

“I came all the way from Nagam. I left my home early in the morning,” Dilshada, wearing a Pheran and dusty plastic shoes, told the officials.

“Do you want to withdraw from both the wards?” a concerned official told her.

Dilshada’s withdrawal form.

Dilshada’s name was mentioned twice in the list. The documents reveal that she had filled nominations for forward number 02 and 05. Asserting that she has nothing to do with these nominations, she withdrew from both the wards.

“I don’t know how to write and read. I don’t even understand this Panchayat election. I’m unaware of the documents submitted here. All I know is I had given my Aadhaar Card to one of the villagers, who’s a government employee,” Dilshada says.

“He [government employee] told me that there’s some scheme from the Centre, and I’m eligible for that,” she continues. “Such news always appeals poor people like me. I didn’t know what he did with my Aadhaar Card. I was waiting for a scheme, but soon landed in this mess.”

Dilshada looks terrified because the news of her participation in ongoing Panchayat elections spread like wild fire in her village. “This news has also threatened my marriage,” she says. “My husband told me why I had handed over my card to someone. He told me to come clean on this.”

Like Dilshada, scores of other pseudo Panchayat candidates have withdrawn their mysterious nomination. On 17 November, a group of people held a protest outside DC office in Islamabad and demanded to withdraw their name from the nomination list.

“We’re losing our brothers and sons, how could we apply for such futile elections,” said a disgruntled candidate, claiming he never filed the nomination.

Another ‘candidate’ Mushtaq Ahmad of Mantipora Shangus staged a sit in, along with his aged father and other family members. He was requesting the concerned authorities to withdraw his name. “I was informed by police that I’ve filled a nomination. I was shocked by this news,” says Mushtaq, a carpenter by profession. “We’ve nothing to do with Panchayat elections.”

The protesters demanded to withdraw their name from the list of nominees, saying they were cheated.

“I had given my Aadhaar Card to our Village head,” one of the candidates says. “I never thought about it, until yesterday, when I received a surprising notice that I’ve filed a nomination for Panchayat elections. They’re playing some game with us. Such things are susceptible to Kashmir.”

The so-called ‘candidates’ staging a protest.

Amid this fresh controversy, an audio clip of a purported phone call between Hizb’s Operational Commander Riyaz Naikoo and the outfit’s district commander from Shopian Abbas Ali made rounds on social media on 19 November.

Some candidates are saying that they’ve been cheated. They’re unaware about their nomination,’ Abbas can be heard informing Naikoo in that audio clip.

We forgave people for 30 years. They think people are fools. Don’t spare anyone who takes part in elections. Throw acid on them or make them handicapped,’ Naikoo orders Abbass in the audio.

While the authenticity of the audio clip cannot be verified—even police officials couldn’t immediately verify it—it has further instilled a sense of unease in these ‘cheated’ candidates.

Over this snowballing controversy, the election control room refused to comment. “We’ve nothing to do with this issue and aren’t authorized to reveal any information. You should contact Returning Officers on this,” an official in the Control Room said.

However, the election officials who collect nomination forms told this reporter that they check documents like Aadhaar Card, Affidavit, Police clearance and Declaration when the candidates filed nomination. “Anyone could supply a submission on behalf of a candidate if he/she has complete documents with authorization from candidates,” they claimed.

The district Chief Election Officer and DC Islamabad, Mohammad Younis Malik couldn’t be reached for his comments on the controversy. As and when he responds to the call, this copy will be updated.

But the unfolded events have already cast aspersions on another “grassroot democratic process” in Kashmir. Perhaps the case of Aadhaar Card mystery and the ‘cheated’ candidates will likely make Panchayat elections as another ‘eventful’ engagement in the valley.

 

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