Election Commission Defers Panchayat By-Elections Indefinitely in J&K

None of the parties in the Union Territory, other than BJP, had been willing to support the conduct of the polls when their leaders had been detained.

Jammu: In Jammu and Kashmir, the Election Commission has deferred the scheduled panchayat by-elections for an indefinite period citing ‘security reasons’.

The bypolls were necessitated due to the fact that more than 11,000 seats had been left out during the 2018 polls.

The elections had been scheduled in eight phases, and two of them were notified. The elections were to begin from March 5, 2020 across Jammu and Kashmir.

The decision to defer the polls was taken by the Chief Electoral Officer of the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory, Shailendra Kumar after the Home department suggested the same.

Quoting communication from the Home department, the CEO on issued an order late on Tuesday. It said:

“Home Department, Government of Jammu and Kashmir vide its letter number home/ISA/237/2019 of Feb 18, 2019 has advised the Election Authority to consider deferring of the conduct of polls based on credible inputs from the law enforcement agencies.”

The CEO has maintained:

“Now, therefore, in exercise of powers under section 36 of Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act 1989, read with Rule 8 and Rule 40 of the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Rules, 1996, the notifications of February 15, and February 17, 2020 issued for phase-I and phase-II respectively, and the schedule issued on February 13, 2020 for other phases of the Panchayat Bi-Elections 2020 are hereby withdrawn.”

The CEO said in the order that the Election Commission remains firm in the hope that “after addressing all the concerns suitably at the earliest, possibly in two to three weeks, [a] fresh schedule shall be notified.”

Officials remained tight lipped over what kind of security threat has compelled the Election Commission to defer by-polls in Jammu and Kashmir abruptly.

The political analysts believe that the by-polls might have been deferred due to resentment shown by all the opposition political parties whose leaders met CEO Shailendra Kumar in Jammu.

Only the BJP supported the conduct of panchayat polls on the 11,639 vacant seats across Jammu and Kashmir that were left out. The number includes the 11,457 seats in Kashmir Valley where panchayat polls did not take place.

During the CEO’s meeting with all the party’s, the Congress, National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, and National Panthers Party opposed the polls.

“How can we field candidates when all the leaders including National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah, vice president Omar Abdullah, and NC’s general secretary Ali Mohammed Sagar are in detention [and booked under the Public Safety Act]? Who will sign the documents?” one of the opposition leaders who came out after attending the meeting said.

Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is detained under Public Safety Act (PSA) and no one from PDP is being allowed to meet her.

Interestingly, the Congress’s Jammu and Kashmir chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir is not detained, but he is not being allowed to visit Kashmir, or hold any public meetings there by the authorities.

Also read: People With Disabilities Are Being Detained Under PSA in Kashmir

“His request to visit Kashmir was turned down by the authorities yesterday,” said a senior Congress leader in Jammu, who added that BJP had the might of all its leaders and supporters behind it.

Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party chairman,Harsh Dev Singh was also critical of the election process under the current conditions. “Earlier they were keen to implement a one-nation, one-flag-and one-constitution method in Jammu and Kashmir. But nowadays, the BJP is implementing agenda of ‘one-party and one-nation’,” he said.

While National Conference demanded the postponement of the polls, PDP leaders walked out in protest when they were given no assurance by Kumar on whether their leaders would be released.

Congress and National Panthers Party have decided to wait for the Election Commission’s response to their demands on the release of detained leaders, removal of restrictions on the movement of opposition leaders and security forces accompanying them.

The opposition also questioned the Election Commission over the efficacy of inviting them for an all party meeting only after issuing the notification of polls.

Nasir Ali is an independent journalist.