Jammu and Kashmir panchayat polls to be held in February: Political battle heats up amid threat of violence

Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have geared up for panchayat elections after the state government recently decided to hold the polls in February. The state government is looking at undertaking a mammoth exercise to elect nearly 18,785 panchs and 2, 369 sarpanchs in Kashmir during the elections.

On Tuesday, Governor NN Vohra, in an address to the joint sitting of state legislature, announced that the panchayat elections will be held in February, which will be followed by urban local body polls. “With the third tier of governance in place, the government’s administrative and developmental initiatives will gather renewed steam,’’ said Vohra. Director (Rural Development) Kashmir, Gazanfar Ali, said that across Kashmir division 18,785 panchs and 2, 369 sarpanchs will be elected. The decision has however evoked opposition by the separatists who have asked the people to boycott the elections.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Despite the government's announcement, political activity in Kashmir is missing. But all political parties in the Jammu region have started the process of fielding candidates as panchs and sarpanchs. For Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, peaceful elections will send across a message that she has been able to deliver on the ground and that the PDP has regained the lost ground in Kashmir after the unrest over killing of Hizbul Muhajideen militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani. However after the announcement about the election by Mehbooba, the PDP's coalition partner BJP has decided that it will field its own candidates in the elections. BJP state president, Sat Sharma, said that the party will field candidates even on those panch constituencies in Kashmir where the PDP would put up its candidates. “We will field candidates who are ideologically aligned with us,’’ he said. “ These elections will not be fought on party symbols. However, we have started the process of identifying the candidates who will contest the elections.’’

However, Opposition parties including the Congress have said that the ruling PDP-BJP alliance was aiming at electing its own representatives after a recent amendment in the Panchyati Raj Act, 1989, to elect the sarpanchs through voting by panchs. Congress state vice-president, GN Monga said that the party has protested the amendment in the Panchayat Act during the Assembly Session which started in Jammu. “The indirect elections of sarpanchs will encourage horse-trading,’’ he said. The panchayat elections have been due since June 2016, when the term of the incumbents expired. Earlier, the elections were held in 2011 after a gap of 38 years. However Monga said that it will be difficult to hold the elections in some areas of Kashmir particularly in the south due to the precarious security scenario. In Kashmir, the youth continue to pour on the streets during the anti-militancy operations, even as the security situation improved considerably in the past year as compared to 2016.

Jammu and Kashmir’s chief electoral officer, Shaleen Kabra, however said that the notification will be issued by the government shortly to hold the panchayat elections and that they are “fully prepared for the polls.”

From the beginning of 2016, the government had set into motion the process to hold the elections and carried out the delimitation of panch constituencies and panch halqas. A senior government official said that a sarpanch will be elected by 6 to 10 panchs in each panchayat halqa. As per the Panchyati Raj Act, each halqa panchayat shall consist of “not less than seven and not more than eleven panchs including the sarpanch.”

Chairman of All J&K Panchayat Conference, Shafiq Mir, said that the government has left the panchayats without powers due to which there is a “lack of enthusiasm among the people to take part in the election process.”

He said that although the elections have been due for over one and half years, the government failed to hold the polls earlier. “We have sought that the 73rd amendment of the Indian Constitution should be enforced in Jammu and Kashmir as well, and panchayat elections should be held in a time frame.’’ He added that “adequate funds should be made available to the panchayats to enable them to function effectively.” Mir said that the decision to do away with the direct elections for the sarpanchs has divested the people “of the right to vote to elect the sarpanchs’’ and has “eroded accountability.” He further said, "The sarpanchs elected by the people were accountable to them, but that will not happen now."

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Updated Date: Jan 04, 2018 18:37:53 IST

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