It’s not out of picture: NC’s message to its demoralized cadres in J&K

ZAHOOR MALIK. Dated: 2/18/2020 12:35:56 PM

Willingness for conditional participation in Panchayat by polls

SRINAGAR, Feb 17: By expressing its willingness to contest conditionally the coming panchayat by-elections, National Conference (NC) has tried also to send a strong signal to its otherwise demoralised cadres and supporters that it is not out of the picture yet despite the changed political scenario in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of articles 370 and 35A on August 5 last year.
The party, in a letter to Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), has made it absolutely clear that it first wants roadblocks placed in its way to be removed so that it can campaign freely. NC has said that it is practically impossible for it to participate in polls when its three top leaders Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Ali Mohammad Sagar are detained under Public Safety Act (PSA). In a way, the party has demanded release of its leaders first so that the candidates are selected and campaigning is also done freely.
Going by the present scenario, there are no chances of the government releasing Farooq, Omar and Sagar in the near future. Secondly, even as panchayat polls are contested on local issues and development, but every election in Kashmir has a political touch directly or indirectly. NC, which in the past used to demand restoration of greater autonomy to J&K (pre-1953 position), cannot skip the Article 370 issue so easily. But talking on this issue or demanding restoration of Articles 370 and 35 A is being disallowed and only those detained leaders are being released who agree not to raise this issue. Those who refused to sign the bond for the purpose have to continue under detention.
Before August 5 last year, NC was finding itself in a strong position. It had geared up for assembly polls even as there were no early signs for such an electoral exercise at that time. NC was sure that whenever polls are held, at least it will manage to emerge as the single largest party in the assembly, even if unable to cobble up a majority, and could head a government in alliance with any other party. But abrogation of the articles and downgrading of J&K state into two union territories changed the whole scene.
Now with panchayat by-elections from March 5, NC has made it a point to show its presence felt. The party had boycotted the 2018 panchayat polls on the issue of Article 35A. At that time, the writ petitions regarding the Article were being heard by Supreme Court and NC wanted the then governor administration to make its stand clear regarding the petitions first. PDP almost adopted the same approach and both the parties stayed away from the exercise and subsequently, field was left open for BJP, Peoples Conference and some other smaller parties.
In South Kashmir particularly in Shopian, Kulgam, Tral and Anantnag, large number of panches and sarpanches were declared elected unopposed. A number of them were the Kashmiri migrant Pandits now based outside Valley. Hundreds of other seats fell vacant due to non-availability of candidates. The panchayat elections in 2018 were held on non-party basis and could not attract much voters particularly in south Kashmir. However, the poll percentage was comparatively better in north Kashmir and some pockets of Ganderbal district. Jammu and Ladakh reordered poll percentage on higher side.
Now, the eight phase panchayat by-election on party basis for around 13,000 vacant seats from March 5 is a first major electoral exercise after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35 A and bifurcating of J&K state into two union territories.
NC also knows that government is not going to release Farooq, Omar and Sagar in the coming days but announcement of panchayat polls now has given them a chance to mount pressure for their release. More importantly, the party wants to give a strong signal to its demoralized and confused cadre and supporters that NC has not been finished after August 5 and it continues to be as important today as it was in the past.
In the absence of Abdullah and Mufti families, the Centre is reportedly trying to encourage activities of other politicians, who are ready to look beyond the abrogation of articles 370 and 35A. PDP has suffered the most in this as large number of its former leaders and their workers are part of such an exercise . The chaos and confusion is very much prevalent in the ranks and files now.
In a bid to protect itself from such an attack, NC has signaled a conditional participation in the panchayat by polls. The elections would be held in 1,011sarpanch and 11,639 panch seats across J&K, excluding some snow-bound areas, for which the schedule would be announced later.
11,457 panchs and 887 sarpanch seats are vacant in Kashmir, while 182 panch and 124 sarpanch seats are vacant in Jammu division.
There is a feeling in political parties here that BJP is losing ground locally in Jammu despite the abrogation of Article 370. They in this connection refer to the election results of block development councils (BDCs) held by the end of last year in which the performance of BJP was below expectations in Jammu where the independents took the lions share. NC would not like to give a cake walk to BJP if it really takes part in panchayat by polls this time.



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