The government is exploring the possibility of holding panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir in September-October after Governor N N Vohra directed the state administration to prepare the ground for the polls, officials said today. The initiative has been taken in view of the 2011 experience when a record 80 per cent people voted in the panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir despite continuing unrest due to militancy. The state government is preparing the ground for the panchayat polls, a senior government official said requesting anonymity. Another official, who is privy to the development, said the elections have to be held before the onset of the winter and September-October is the possible window for carrying out the exercise.
Panchayat elections for 4,130 sarpanch and 29,719 panch constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir were last held in 2011 after a gap of nearly four decades. The polls to the local bodies were supposed to be held in 2016 but could not be conducted due to the five-month-long unrest in the Kashmir Valley following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani on July 8 that year.
The central government will provide all assistance, including adequate security forces, to the state administration, which is under the Governor’s rule after Mehbooba Mufti resigned as chief minister on June 19 after her party PDP’s alliance partner BJP withdrew support. The failure to hold by-elections in Anantnag parliamentary constituency for more than two years would not be a deterrent as the panchayat elections, which are vital to grass-root democracy, would be held across the state covering the three regions — Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, the official said.
Reports said the Jammu and Kashmir State Election Commission is ready to hold the panchayat polls and is awaiting for the state administration’s nod. Earlier this month, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, during their visit to Kashmir valley, also pressed for the conduct of panchayat elections, the official said.
However, National Conference leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah has said the state was passing through a tough phase and time was not right to conduct panchayat elections. Omar also said rural and urban local bodies elections may have extreme repercussions of halting every other election process in the state in the future.