September 2018 News

Congress To Fight Local Polls In Jammu And Kashmir Amid Boycott Calls

19 September 2018
The Hindustan Times

Srinagar: The Congress on Wednesday announced its participation in the local bodies' elections being held in Jammu and Kashmir from October to December days after saying the situation was not conducive for the polls amid a spike in militant violence in the state. 'We cannot leave the field open for the BJP and the RSS,' said state Congress chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir. He said the secular forces should have joined hands to stop the 'communal forces'. 'The BJP was happy that some parties are not participating,' said Mir, while referring to the poll boycott of the state's two main parties, the National Conference (NC) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP). The two parties are boycotting the polls to protest against the Centre's unclear stand over the attempts to undo the state's special constitutional status. A bunch of petitions challenging the validity of the Constitution's Article 35A, which prevents outsiders from buying property in Jammu and Kashmir, is pending before the Supreme Court. The Congress held a series of meeting over the last week to take a call on whether to contest the polls. Mir said the participation was necessary as the Congress is a national party with much responsibility. '(We will) foil the designs of the BJP. We (the Congress) gave Article 35 A to Jammu and Kashmir and if our party will come to power, we will safeguard it.' The Congress decided to contest the polls even as the party's leaders in the Kashmir Valley were in favour of boycotting them, said leaders aware of the discussions within the party. The view that the Congress should not offer a walkover to the BJP, especially in Jammu where the two parties compete for influence, eventually prevailed. A section of the party felt that the BJP could exploit the boycott against the Congress at the national level. An organisation of former panchayat members had earlier on Monday announced that its members will contest the rural bodies' polls to be held in the state in November and December amid calls to the people from militants and separatists to boycott the elections. PDP spokesman Tahir Sayeed said the Congress is a national party and must have taken the decision keeping in view the national politics. 'We took the decision keeping in view aspirations of the state's people.' NC spokeswoman Sarah Hayat said the elections without two parties will look like a mockery. 'It will make no sense as the NC and PDP take most seats in the state. It is like a (national) election (without) the Congress and BJP's participation.' BJP spokesman Altaf Thakur said Congress. as a national party, could not have stayed away from the polls. 'Other parties like the Janata Dal (United), the (former separatist Sajad Lone)'s Peoples Conference will also take part in these polls.' Unidentified arsonists have tried to set ablaze panchayat buildings in South Kashmir since the rural poll schedule has been announced. The announcement for the civic election schedule on Saturday coincided with the killing of a civilian in clashes following a gunfight between militants and security forces in South Kashmir's Kulgam district. Five militants were also killed in the gunfight. As many as 16 sarpanches (panchayat heads) and panchs (rural bodies' members) have been killed over the last four years after a record 75% voter turnout was recorded when rural polls were last held in 2011. The government has deputed over 15,000 additional paramilitary forces to conduct the polls.