Deferring the polls
The much hyped and talked about Panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir — scheduled to be held next month were postponed late last night as the Chief Electoral Officer cited the law and order situation prevalent in the region.
The announcement however, is in contrary to the claims of the administration that normalcy is returning in the area. The election for a local government was expected to be the first big political exercise since the state was bifurcated into two union territories.
The last panchayat election was held in Jammu and Kashmir in November 2018 – months after the ruling coalition between the BJP and Mehbooba Mufti collapsed and the state was placed under Governor’s Rule. Assembly elections have not been held since, and Jammu and Kashmir continues to be under Central rule.
The postponement of the polls comes on a day when opposition parties, including the National Conference, PDP and the Congress, met the Chief Electoral officer in Jammu and said they were willing to take part in the polls only if their leaders are released from detention, in order to provide a level playing field.
Pertinently, the Election Commission (EC) had on last Thursday announced the by-elections for over 12500 vacant Panchayat seats in Jammu and Kashmir, saying that eight-phased polls will be conducted from March 5 to March 20.
It had said the polling will be held on March 5, March 7, March 9, March 12, March 14, March 16, March 18 and 20. Panchayat elections were last held in Jammu and Kashmir in 2018 that were boycotted by PDP and NC.
On Tuesday the CEO JK Shailendra Kumar had also chaired a crucial meeting with political parties where all the parties minus Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) put two conditions—to hold Panchayat by-elections on non-party basis and the demand to release the leadership that is under detention since August 5.
While the last round of the panchayat elections was not held on party lines, and was boycotted by the NC and PDP, this time the polls were to be fought on party lines.
Since August, when the Centre had ended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir granted under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated the state into two union territories, key political leaders of Kashmir Valley – including former Chief Ministers Mehboba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and his father Farooq Abdullah, have been under detention.
The detention of the political leaders was part of a series of restrictions placed on Jammu and Kashmir since August, which the Centre said were precautionary measures. These restrictions, the Centre had said, would be lifted in phases as the situation normalises.
However, the Panchayat elections had earlier too created ripples with very little participation being witnessed at the ground level. There were instances where the panches and sarpaches were elected by a few votes polled in their favour. The entire exercise had raised many eyebrows and questions as well.