In all-party meeting, Congress says it is not for boycott but govt should assess situation
Srinagar: The majority of political parties in Jammu & Kashmir on Sunday called for deferring panchayat polls in the state while the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) batted for conducting the polls on time, at the All Party Meeting (APM) chaired by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in Jammu.
Provincial president of the opposition National Conference (NC), Nasir Sogami, said that his party argued in the meeting that the ground situation in Kashmir was not conducive to the holding of panchayat elections. “The government could not conduct parliamentary by-polls. The recent incident in Shopian (where three civilians were killed in army firing) and other places clearly indicates that the situation is not conducive for the polls,” Sogami said.
“Now it has to be seen whether in these conditions the government conducts the polls or not,” he added.
Spokesperson of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Rafi Mir, said that he categorically told the government that the time was not opportune for panchayat elections. “We asked them for some time so that elections are conducted in a much better atmosphere. We want people to get some relief and businessmen to do some business. We wanted the elections deferred,” Mir said.
Vice President of the Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC), GN Monga, said that his party said in the meeting that it was for the government to decide whether to conduct the polls or not. “The coalition government will now decide whether to conduct the polls or not,” Monga said. “We are not with the boycott.”
He said that the majority of the parties in the APM rooted for deferring the panchayat elections, except the BJP and the JKNPP.
Soon after the meeting, Rural Development Minister Haq Khan told the media that most of the political parties in the APM said that polls should be deferred as the situation was “not feasible for holding the polls”.
State General Secretary of the BJP, Ashok Kaul, said that his party made it clear that panchayat elections should be conducted on time, but in a phased manner. “Our state president attended the meeting and said that elections should be conducted on time,” Kaul said.
Sources who attended the meeting said that the suggestions of BJP and JKNPP leaders were met with uproar from other parties, who said that elections cannot be conducted as the situation was dangerous on the ground.
Representatives of the CPI(M), PDF, Awami Ittihad Party, and DPN attended the meeting and put forth their suggestions, the majority of them suggesting that the polls be postponed.
In December last year, Mehbooba Mufti announced that panchayat elections would be held from February 15. The polls were due to be conducted earlier in 2016, but could not be held due to the uprising which rocked Kashmir Valley after the killing of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
The last panchayat elections in the state were held in March-April 2011, after a gap of nearly four decades.
Government sources said that the government will discuss the issue in the upcoming cabinet meeting, before announcing whether or when the polls would be held.
“The government has already told the home ministry that the ground situation is not conducive,” the sources said. “There is a consensus in the administration at the top level that polls should be deferred,” the sources said.
Earlier, people associated with the tourism industry have also asked the government to not conduct panchyata polls, as they threaten to ruin their business for the consecutive third year.
Many of the ruling PDP legislators, particularly from south Kashmir, have opposed the polls due to the fear of violence.
Pro-freedom groups and the Joint Resistance Leadership has appealed to people to boycott panchayat polls, whenever they are held, while the militant outfit Hizb-ul-Mujahideen has threatened to “pour acid into the eyes” of those who contest the polls.