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Protect Art 35A or we will boycott local polls: Farooq tells GoI

Srinagar: National Conference President and Member Parliament Farooq Abdullah along with senior party leaders addressing a press conference,at party Headquarters in Srinagar on Wednesday. National Conference decided to boycott upcoming municipal and panchayat elections. PTI Photo by Umar Ganie

Srinagar, Sep 5: The Jammu and Kashmir National Conference will boycott the local body and panchayat elections in the state unless the Centre takes effective steps for protection of Article 35-A of the Constitution, which is facing legal challenge in the Supreme Court, party president Farooq Abdullah said Wednesday.

“The core group (of NC) unanimously decided that the National Conference will not participate in these elections unless and until the government of India and the state government clarify their positions in this regard and take effective steps for protection of Article 35-A in and outside the courts,” Abdullah said after the meeting here.

He said the decision of the state administration to hold urban local body polls and panchayat elections was taken in a “hurried manner” and without taking into consideration the prevailing situation “created by the powers that be by unnecessarily fiddling with Article 35-A”.

Abdullah said the core group had a detailed discussion about prevailing situation in the state with particular reference to Article 35-A of the Constitution. “It was felt that any tinkering with Article 35-A would prove disastrous not only for our state but for the entire country”.

He said the stands of the central government and the present dispensation in Jammu and Kashmir before the Supreme Court goes “clearly against the wishes and aspirations of the people of the state.

“They conveniently ignore that this provision was incorporated in the Constitution after thorough discussion between the then state government and the Government of India and was made part of the Delhi Agreement 1952,” he said.

“It was also approved by the state’s constituent assembly as envisaged under article 370 of the Constitution,” he said.

Abdullah said the core group resolved that J&K National Conference would fight tooth and nail all “sinister” attempts aimed at interfering with this constitutional guarantee.

“Such attempts, if allowed, shall strike at the very basis of the relationship between the state and the Union,” he said.

Omar Abdullah also said that the central government should make its stand on the article of the Constitution that restricts property ownership and government jobs to permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir.

“It is now for the central government to clarify where it stands with regard to Art 35-A. It’s not enough to use Panchayat & Municipal elections simply to delay proceedings in court,” he tweeted.

Omar was referring to the Supreme Court’s decision last week to defer hearing petitions against Article 35A to January after the Centre and the state government argued that it could lead to a law and order situation in the state ahead of the upcoming panchayat and local body elections.

Additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, representing the state government, said that any debate on Article 35A at this juncture would have an impact on the law and order situation in the valley where elections to over 4,500 posts of sarpanch and to 1,145 wards are scheduled. If these elections do not take place, then Rs 4,335 crore financial grant would lapse, he said.

The Jammu and Kashmir government had announced the schedule for its municipal and panchayat polls last week, set to start on October 1 up to the first week on November. The decision was taken by the state administrative council (SAC), which met under the chairmanship of governor Satya Pal Malik on Friday. Preparations for the elections have been on ever since the state came under governor’s rule on June 20.

The council had decided that the elections to municipal bodies will be conducted in four phases, with polling dates between October 1 and October 5. The municipal and panchayat polls are being held in the state after over a decade. The state government has deputed more than 15,000 additional paramilitary forces to conduct the polls amid a spike in violence.

Militants and separatist Joint Hurriyat Leadership comprising three leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik have also called for a boycott of the local bodies’ polls in Jammu and Kashmir, saying people’s participation in the elections are propagated “as a verdict in India’s favour”.

Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’s militant commander Riyaz Naikoo has also threatened that people who will get the election forms for panchayat and local body polls should also get shrouds.

There have been protests in the state by separatists against any change in Article 35A and Article 370 with the state’s main regional mainstream parties such as the NC and the Peoples Democratic Party also hitting the streets and warning of a deterioration of the situation in the state if any changes are made to either provision. Senior Congress leaders in the state have also warned of a massive agitation if Article 35A is altered in any way.