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CM chairs all-parties’ meet on Panch polls: Majority for deferment; ball in Cabinet’s court

Majority of the parties batted for the deferment of panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir at the all-party meet that was chaired by the J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and attended by the senior leaders of the opposition and ruling parties at Jammu on Sunday.

“Though all parties favour holding of panchayat elections for empowering of gross-roots level institutions, majority view was that the situation is not conducive for the elections right now,” Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Abdul Haq Khan told reporters after the meeting.

 

Only Ghulam Hasan Mir of Jammu and Kashmir’s Democratic Party Nationalist and legislators from Jammu believed that panchayat polls should be conducted in the state.

Mir slammed the state government for “unnecessarily ducking” the panchayat elections and said it should be held “as soon as possible”.

“The situation back in 2010 was worse than what it is now. But weren’t the panchayat polls conducted in 2011? I believe that the government should ensure security across the state holds the elections without wasting any time,” Mir told The Kashmir Monitor.

Apart from Mir, the majority of other Kashmir based leaders favoured the deferment of panchayat polls sighting the atmosphere of the valley as not so “conducive” to hold the elections at the moment.

“We clearly oppose the holding of elections keeping in mind the present scenario of the valley. I don’t think even the people of Kashmir are willing to participate in it,” said Ali Muhammad Sagar, Secretary-General National Conference.

“Still, the ball is in government’s court,” he added.

AIP leader, Engineer Rasheed too believes that the time is “not right” to hold the elections.

“…Internet service is being snapped frequently, protests have become a routine, state terrorism is at its peak, and masses are seeking resolution to Kashmir dispute, it makes no sense to hold Panchayat elections,” Rasheed told The Kashmir Monitor.

“There are more important issues that the government should be taking a note of rather than holding elections. I openly oppose this,” he added.

During the meeting, Rasheed, as per his party’s official statement, entered into a heated argument with the ones claiming that ‘elections are the only resolution’ to the Kashmir problem.

J&K Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir said that the J&K government is getting “squeezed” by the New Delhi to decide on the panchayat polls, and that is what “forced” her to call for the all-party meeting.

He believes that Mehbooba should focus on holding of parliamentary by-elections first rather than panchayat polls.

“If she can’t hold the parliamentary by-election, how can she hold these panchayat polls? We are not running away from these elections, we welcome it. But we believe parliamentary (polls) should be held first,” he said.

The Congress president also raised concern over the security arrangements if the Panchayat elections take place.

The BJP, coalition partner of the PDP, however, said it favoured holding of elections to panchayat and urban local bodies as soon as possible.

“We conveyed our parties view point at the meeting. Barring some pockets, the situation is overall conducive for the elections,” BJP state president Sat Sharma said.

Senior CPI (M) leader and MLA M Y Tarigami said the party believed in empowering gross-root institutions and it was the responsibility of the government to decide whether the situation is conducive for holding polls.

During the elections, 35096 panchs would be elected from an equal number of constituencies spread over 316 blocks. Of these, 18785 constituencies are in Kashmir and 16311 in Jammu.

Last year, Mehbooba December 25 last year had announced that Panchayat elections in the state would be held from February 15.

The panchayat elections were due in 2016 and were postponed following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016.

The panchayat elections in the state were last held in 2011 after a span of 37-year.