New Delhi: The first phase of local body elections in Jammu and Kashmir saw nearly 57% polling with queues of voters seen in Jammu region but few people seen standing in line to cast their ballot in Srinagar, in the first municipal polls in 13 years in the state on Monday.

Voting was held in 11 districts—three in the Jammu, two in Ladakh and six in the Kashmir valley—to decide the fate of 1,204 candidates in the first phase.

Police and paramilitary personnel were deployed in strength across 820 polling stations to ensure security for the process, seen as a way of putting in place local administrations that provide efficient government services and carry out development in the absence of a state government.

The last local body elections were held in 2005, a year after India and Pakistan launched peace talks following a hiatus after the December 2001 Parliament attack. The term of the local bodies ended in February 2010, but polls have not been held till now.

This time round, the elections are being held against the backdrop of President’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to walk out of the alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in June this year. Panchayat polls are also being held under the shadow of threats by terrorist groups with the candidates and the public being warned against taking part in the elections.

The elections are also being held against the backdrop of tensions being high between India and Pakistan with peace talks suspended since 2013 and several attempts since then to resume the dialogue coming to naught. Terrorists have also been targeting security personnel, including special police officers and police and army recruits, in the state besides the general public, thus sparking alarm.

A PTI report from the state said the boycott of local body elections by the two main political parties in Kashmir—the PDP and the National Conference (NC)—had little effect on voters in the Jammu and the Ladakh regions, with long queues of voters seen outside the polling stations on Monday. These regions are mostly seen as untouched by terrorism and have traditionally ignored boycott calls and threats issued by terrorist groups and separatists.

Normal life was also affected in Kashmir because of a strike called by separatists under the banner of the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) against the holding of the local body elections in the state. JRL, spearheaded by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik, asked the people to observe a complete strike against the elections.

The BJP and the Congress, as well as a large number of independents are the only political groups that have took part in elections. The CPIM and BSP have stayed away from the polls in protests against Article 35A of the constitution being challenged in the Supreme Court, and also over deteriorating law and order in the Valley. Article 35A is a provision incorporated in the Constitution giving the Jammu and Kashmir legislature the powers to decide who are the “permanent residents" of the state and bestow them with special rights in acquisition of property in the state and receiving scholarships and other public aid. It is being challenged in the Supreme Court on a petition filed by an non government group which says Article 35 A is creates a “class within a class of Indian citizens."

As many as 2,990 candidates are in the fray for the four-phase elections with 1,697,291 eligible voters in the state. The second phase of polling will be on 10 October followed by a third phase on 13 October with the last phase on 16 October. Counting of votes will be done on 20 October.

PTI contributed to this story