The quandary deepens: PDP, too, announces poll boycott

The quandary deepens: PDP, too, announces poll boycott
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Srinagar: Taking its cue from its political rival, the National Conference, and upsetting the plans of the Governor’s administration, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Mondayannounced it will boycott the upcoming panchayat and municipal elections in the state.

After holding a meeting at Fairview to get feedback from party legislators, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said the party has decided to stay away from the poll process.

“The situation is not conducive (for elections). There is a sense of insecurity and there are apprehensions of bloodshed. The atmosphere was further vitiated by the Additional Solicitor General when he linked these elections with Article 35A,” Mehbooba said.

The central government’s Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta, who had been hired by the J&K government to plead its case on Article 35A in the Supreme Court, had told the court that Article 35 was “gender discriminatory”. The ASG’s statement caused a furore in Kashmir with all political parties unanimously condemning it. Mehbooba said today that the ASG’s statement had created apprehensions among people that the Indian government may have some “plans” after the conduct of the local polls.

The National Conference (NC) had a few days ago announced boycott of the local polls. Party president Farooq Abdullah said that until the Government of India clears its stand on Articles 35A and 370, which grant special status and privileges to J&K, and defends them in and outside the court, the NC won’t participate in elections.

Panchayat polls in Jammu & Kashmir are pending since Hizb commander Burhan Wani was killed in 2016. Polls for urban local bodies were last held in 2005, after a gap of 23 years.

Responding to queries from reporters about possible “backdoor” entrants making it to the panchayat and municipal bodies in absence of the state’s two major political parties, Mehbooba said that the larger priority is to ensure no bloodshed.

“We will go to any extent to defend Article 35A,” she said.

The former chief minister asked the government to review its decision about the polls and instead focus on confidence-building measures. “The party urges the government to review its decision to hold local bodies’ elections at this juncture against the will of people,” said a resolution unanimously passed in the meeting, “and focus on confidence-building measures so that the state is assured of the inviolability of the constitutional guarantees that make it a special part of Union of India.”

Elections to 79 municipal bodies in Jammu and Kashmir are to be conducted in four phases between October 1 and 5. Nearly 4,0000 sarpanchs and panchs are to be elected in eight phases in 22 districts between November 8 and December 4.

The PDP resolution said that elections amid the ongoing “atmosphere of fear” would “erode the credibility” of the electoral process.

The boycott announced by Kashmir’s two main political parties is a setback to the Raj Bhavan’s push for elections. The push is aimed at restoring the democratic mainstream and comes in the wake of a sharp fall in protests during Governor’s Rule. Last month saw the lowest protest count (34) as compared to rising violence and street protests during the unpopular PDP-BJP government.

With uncertainty looming over the polls, the election office has not yet issued a notification calling for nominations, even though the scheduled municipal polls are just three weeks away.