The panchayat elections scheduled to be held on March 5 in Jammu and Kashmir have been postponed due to security reasons, J&K Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shailendra Kumar said on Tuesday (February 19).
“The bypolls to panchayats has been postponed for three weeks due to security reasons,” Kumar said. He said this step was taken after inputs given to him by the home department over security issues.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration has cited law and order issues in the Union Territory as the reason behind the deferral of polls, contrary to its previous claims that normalcy was returning in Jammu and Kashmir.
The by-elections to over 12,500 panchayat seats in Jammu and Kashmir were scheduled to be held in eight phases from March 5.
The eight-phase poll was earlier scheduled to be held from March 5 to March 20 on a party basis. The polling was slated for March 5, March 7, March 9, March 12, March 14, March 16, March 18 and March 20.
The Model Code of Conduct came into force with the announcement of the bypolls on Thursday. The CEO has already issued two notifications for the first and the second phase of the eight-phase by-election.
The 2020 panchayat elections were the first major political exercise to be held in Kashmir after the bifurcation of the state into two Union territories.
Panchayat elections were last held in 2018 and were boycotted by the PDP and the NC.
CEO Kumar earlier on Tuesday held a meeting with all parties on the bypolls, amid criticism by the mainstream political parties about the continuous detention of their leaders and failure to allow them to conduct political activities.
Three former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers — National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah, and People Democratic Party’s (PDP’s) Mehbooba Mufti — are under detention since last year when the Centre had abrogated Article 370 provisions of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and split it into union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
“We held a meeting of all the parties of Jammu and Kashmir to hear their concerns. They raised some grievances in the meeting,” Kumar had said. He had said that “we will try to address the issues suitably.”
During the meeting, J&K Congress vice president G N Monga said despite issuance of the notifications by the election department, the party’s chief in the union territory G A Mir was not allowed to visit Srinagar to hold meetings in connection with the bypolls.
PDP leaders did not take part in the meeting because it believes that the polling cannot take place if the leadership remains under detention, one of its leaders said.
The CPI(M) criticised the CEO for failing to invite their party for the meeting and expressed concern over it. “We were not invited to the meeting. We are a national party. It is a matter of concern for us,” CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami said.
National Conference leader Ratan Lal Gupta said the party is of the view that the situation is not conducive for holding elections.
(With inputs from agencies)