Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir’s largest cadre-based political party, the National Conference, on Wednesday made the surprising announcement that it would boycott the upcoming panchayat and civic bodies’ elections.
The decision was taken by the party’s political core group during a meeting chaired by NC president Dr Farooq Abdullah.
“Unless and until Government of India and the state government clears its position on Article 35A and takes effective steps for its protection, we will not contest the upcoming polls,” sources present in the NC meeting told Kashmir Reader.
The sources said that the meeting was unanimous about the fact that the role of the central government and the present dispensation in J&K went against the wishes and aspirations of the state’s people.
The State Administrative Council (SAC) headed by Governor Satya Pal Malik had last week commenced the formal process for conducting municipal and panchayat elections in the state.
The SAC had decided that elections to municipal bodies will be conducted in four phases with polling dates between October 1 and October 5.
Similarly, elections to panchayats were scheduled to be conducted in eight phases with polling dates between November 8 and December 4.
The boycott announced by the oldest political party of J&K is being seen by some as a political gimmick. “Had National Conference any moral standing on Article 35A and the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir, it would have also stayed away from the LAHDC polls that were held last week,” a political commentator said. “Isn’t Ladakh very much part of Jammu and Kashmir?” he questioned.
Many others, however, believe that the boycott will give NC a political edge. “The National Conference has made a shrewd move. Since they know that the people of Kashmir and the majority population of Jammu stand for Article 35A, they are trying to stand with the peoples’ sentiment,” a senior politician said.
Cautiously welcoming the NC’s boycott decision, firebrand independent lawmaker Er Rasheed said that it was Dr Farooq Abdullah who would regularly insist to the Government of India to hold elections. “Dr Farooq lacks consistency,” he said, but hoped that the senior Abdullah will stand firm on his decision.
Rasheed said that it was his Awami Ittehad Party that was against holding elections at this time in the state. “We have been consistently saying that the time is not right for any kind of electoral process in the state,” he said.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said that it will call for an all-party meeting and then respond to the National Conference’s decision. “We will have a meeting of the core committee to discuss and then decide,” party’s senior leader Abdul Rehman Veeri said, without commenting further.
Another PDP leader, Nizam-ud-Din Bhat, said that there are fears that the situation is not conducive for polls.
“Yes, there are fears,” he said. “There is an atmosphere of uncertainty. Let the Government of India call an all-party meeting and build a consensus,” he said.
Bhat said that the issue of defending Article 35A has generated much heat and political parties of all hues are in a race to take up the legal battle. “But no two groups could organise a joint rally to show unity. Similarly, the election issue has generated similar reactions as far as the ground situation is concerned. Yet, the voices seem divided,” he said.
Bhat said that Kashmir craves for a unifying force. “The sooner this is realised, the better,” he said.
J&K Congress chief GA Mir said that the situation in Kashmir had deteriorated. However, Mir said, the Congress would not lag behind in the process of conduct of panchayat and municipal elections, but said a decision should be taken after reviewing the ground situation.
“The whole world knows that Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India is based on some conditions, the biggest being the special status, own constitution and flag,” Mir said.
Mir said it was the responsibility of the Governor-led administration to provide a secure atmosphere to candidates and voters and ensure peaceful, free and fair polls.
“The situation in the state, especially in Kashmir valley, over the past three years has deteriorated. The previous PDP-BJP government failed to conduct bypolls to the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat and announced its cancellation just one day ahead of the scheduled date of polling. They also announced panchayat polls and local bodies’ elections but later deferred them,” he pointed out.