Srinagar: In all likelihood, the Panchayat elections slated for mid-February will not be held in Kashmir due to pressure exerted by members of the tourism industry and other businesses on the government, besides the worsening situation prevailing in the valley.
In view of concerns that violence will erupt the way it did during the mid-term Lok Sabha polls last April, people associated with the tourism industry are pressing the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to postpone the elections. However, the PDP’s coalition partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seems to be interested in conducting the elections.
“There is no activity whatsoever regarding the holding of Panchayat elections in Kashmir,” a senior official working in the office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) told Kashmir Reader. “Various stakeholders associated with the tourism business are impressing upon the government that they would prefer that elections were postponed. They fear that there could be violence like in the 2017 mid-term Lok Sabha polls, which would in turn ruin their business for the straight fourth year.”
The official said the members of the tourism industry even met the Chief Minister during the snow festival at Gulmarg on January 15 and impressed their concerns upon her along with the request that the polls be postponed.
Kashmir Hotel Association president Mushtaq Chaya said they had communicated to the CM and the government several times that they were not in favour of conducting elections in Kashmir at this point of time.
“Three years of business in a row have been ruined due to the unfavourable situation in Kashmir,” Chaya said. “So we have time and again intimated the government that they should either delay or postpone the Panchayat elections. I think they are serious in considering our request. We hope they will soon decide on the matter.”
The president of the Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association, A Majid, also said that they have lost the previous business seasons due to protests and violence and do not want the same repeated this time.
“I am also not in favour of the Panchayat elections,” he said. “We have had no business so far. The Panchayat election means more trouble and a final blow to our industry.”
In December last year, the CM had announced that Panchayat polls would be held from mid-February. Panchayat elections were last held in the state in 2011.
“There has been no activity at district levels,” the official said. “We have not received any requests from districts to adjust the voter lists. Nobody has come forward to indicate that people on the ground are interested in elections. Our officials at district offices are sitting idle.”
The official, however, said that their office had completed arrangements for conducting the Panchayat elections in Kashmir.
Despite repeated queries as to whether the Panchayat elections would be deferred or not, CEO Shaleen Kabra did not respond.
The official said that the notification for the Panchayat election had not been issued, even though a little more than 15 days were left to conduct the polls as announced by the CM.
“Primarily, it (the notification not being issued) is due to the reason that the government was in a fix. It was still deliberating on whether to conduct the polls as announced or not,” official said.
According to sources in the government, the ruling PDP was ready to postpone the elections but was finding it hard to convince its ruling partner, BJP, to abide by the decision. “The Chief Minister wants to postpone the elections, but BJP is persisting in urging that they be conducted,” a government source said. “Let us see how it comes out. The BJP has cultivated a weak base in Kashmir which it wants to preserve through Panchayat system”.
Sources, though, claim that PDP legislators especially from South Kashmir want the pollls to be deffered.
“The union home ministry wanted the polls to be conducted. It was the reason the state government announced that it will conduct polls,” sources said. “But as you know, the situation has worsened from then onwards. The PDP legislators from south Kashmir are unable to visit their constituencies. In last three days four civilians have been killed. It is highly unlikely polls will be conducted”.
Sources further disclosed that government has intimated the home ministry about the situation and lack of conducive atmosphere to conduct polls.