Panchayat By-polls NC says ‘up for participation’, seeks removal of ‘roadblocks’

TNN Bureau. Updated: 2/17/2020 9:26:25 AM Front Page

JAMMU: In a major political development, the National Conference has expressed willingness to participate in next month's Panchayat by-polls but wants "roadblocks" placed in its way to be removed so that it can campaign freely.
The party, which had stayed away from the 2018 Panchayat polls, said the detention of its top leaders will hamper the process of candidate selection and campaign.
The oldest and one of the main political parties in Kashmir has expressed its willingness to take part in the poll process this time as the election will be held on party lines.
In a letter to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shailendra Kumar, NC central secretary Rattan Lal Gupta said the party is a strong votary of democratic process and wishes to participate in the eight-phase elections starting March 5 on 12650 seats.
A copy of the letter has been marked to the Chief Election Commissioner.
The letter states that it is practically impossible for the party to participate in the election when its top leaders, including its president Farooq Abdullah, vice president Omar Abdullah, general secretary Ali Mohammed Sagar, are in detention under the stringent Public Safety Act.
“Therefore, the process of selecting candidates and campaigning under the given circumstances is impossible,” the letter said.
As per the rule, either the party president or vice president have to sign the nomination papers of prospective candidates.
The elections to local bodies, the first democratic exercise after Jammu and Kashmir became a union territory last year, will be contested on party lines unlike the last polls in 2018 when it was contested on non-party lines.
The elections would be held for electing 1,011 sarpanch and 11,639 panch across Jammu and Kashmir, excluding some snow-bound areas, for which the schedule would be announced later.
Gupta said that his party firmly believed in democratic rights of the people and their mandate to elect representatives at different levels.
"However, for a genuine political exercise to happen, it is important that the mainstream political thought, which is a unifying force, is allowed to freely propagate and demonstrate its ideology," he said in the letter and added that a political ecosystem needs to be ensured so that the democratic institutions become genuine and credible reflectors of the people's aspirations.
Gupta asked the CEO to advice the party on how these roadblocks that have been placed in the way of its participation can be overcome.
"If the aim is to create conditions to exclude all other parties except the BJP, then nothing more needs to be said but if the aim is to create a genuine culture of grassroots democracy, then the process adopted is a deeply flawed one," he wrote.
The similar views were expressed by party’s spokesman in Valley, who asserted that without the top leadership released, there is no point taking part in the polls.
"There is no point contesting the panchayat elections when the party president, vice president and general secretary are under detention," said National Conference spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar, adding "They are the ones supposed to sign the nomination papers of the contesting candidates."
Sources within the PDP said with its top leadership under detention the party is yet to take a call on taking part in Panchayat polls.
Panchayat elections were last held in J&K in 2018 which were boycotted by the main Kashmiri parties - PDP and National Conference.
The electoral exercise has been announced at a time when three former chief ministers continue to be under detention since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5. PSA has been slapped on three former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

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