With the Centre setting up a process of sustained dialogue in Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti appears to have begun the spadework for holding panchayat elections to deepen the democratic process at the grassroots level in the state. The issue will be on top of Mufti’s agenda during her meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday. Other top officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will also be present in the meeting, to be chaired by Singh.
Last held in 2011, rural polls in the state were scheduled for the 2016 summer but were delayed due to the unrest in the Valley following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in July 2016. The state government last year wanted to hold the panchayat elections before the Lok Sabha by-election to Srinagar and Anantnag seats, which was scheduled for April this year. While bypolls were held in Srinagar amid violence, the security forces and the state government wrote to the Election Commission, urging that the Anantnag bypolls be postponed.
“The Centre was of the view that the (Lok Sabha) bypolls should be held first, and if they go peacefully the state can plan local elections,” according to an MHA official. “The state government, however, argued that if it can conduct panchayat elections first, it will involve more stakeholders and create an atmosphere far more conducive for the bypolls.” The Mufti government, according to the official, may push for holding the local elections before January 2018.
Sources said Mufti is also likely to take up the proposal for seeking special assistance for madrasa students in the Valley and discuss the Prime Minister’s Development Project (PMDP) during her meeting with Singh. Of PMDP’s Rs 80,068 crore outlay, Rs 61,112 crore has already been sanctioned by various ministries, and more than Rs 20,000 crore has been released to the implementing agencies, including the state government. This is more than 25 per cent (released sum) of the total amount, an official said.
On Wednesday, Mufti, while appreciating steps taken by the Centre to appoint Dineshwar Sharma as a special representative in Kashmir, said, “This is the beginning of a political process. The Centre has finally taken a very serious step forward. There has been a lot of discussion within the government about it.”
That aside, Mufti is also likely to take up with Singh the National Investigation Agency’s cases against separatist leaders on charges of terror funding. Among other issues that are likely to be discussed are the release of funds allocated to refugees, deportation of Rohingya refugees, development funds for border villages, it is learnt.