After both the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) announced that they will boycott the coming municipal and panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, Governor Satyapal Malik is learnt to have conveyed to the two parties that the current dispensation in the state “is not an elected government”, and this is not the “right time” for parties to “take a position on Article 35A or Article 370”.
J&K has been under Governor’s rule since June 20 and Malik, who took charge as Governor last month, has been holding consultations with political leaders to “ease (their) concern and address the issue,” sources said. Appearing for the J&K administration, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had told the Supreme Court on August 31 that “even debate or discussion on Article 35A will have serious repercussions on law and order”.
If local body elections are not held as scheduled, Mehta had submitted, it will affect the Finance Commission’s grant of over Rs 4,000 crore. The apex court had put off the hearing to January 2019 after both the Centre and the state administration sought a deferment.
A senior government official said, “Local body and panchayat elections in the state are overdue and if they are further postponed, it will not be possible to hold the elections before April next year, as elections cannot take place between December and March given weather conditions in the Valley. By April next year, security forces will be busy preparing for the General Election.”
Therefore, the official said, this is the only window when central security forces will be available for local polls. Otherwise, the official maintained, “the state will have to wait another year. As far as we are concerned, ensuring better turnout, involvement of political representative and security remains the biggest challenge.”
On objections raised by the NC and the PDP, another Home Ministry official said, “Panchayat elections are not held on party lines. Moreover, Governor Satyapal Malik is holding consultations with the political parties to ease their concerns.” More than 40,000 panchayat seats and over 1,140 wards are scheduled to go to the polls in an eight-phase election this October and November. Municipal elections were last conducted in Jammu and Kashmir in 2005, and the last panchayat polls were held in 2011.
The 2011 elections saw an 82-per cent turnout, and were hailed as a success, especially since they were conducted in the shadow of the 2010 unrest in the Valley. A Home Ministry official said that “security” remains the key most concern, particularly in areas of south Kashmir, but a decision has been taken to give precedence to “grassroots democracy” in the state.
“This is the first step to normalise the situation,” the official said. On providing security to the candidates in Jammu and Kashmir during election campaign, the official said that a threat assessment is being carried out and a final decision will be taken in consultation with the state government and Jammu and Kashmir police.