Local body elections in Jammu and Kashmir will proceed according to schedule, even though the two key political parties in the state - Mehbooba Mufti's PDP and the National Conference - have pulled out of the election, officials said on Monday. The home ministry, sources said, has asked the state administration to prepare for holding free and fair elections in early November.
"The polls would be held on time as planned," a senior bureaucrat told NDTV.
The PDP officially pulled out of the elections on Monday, saying the party will go to "any extent" to protect Article 35A, which forms the bedrock of the special status to the state granted by the Constitution. Last week, the National Conference declared that it would boycott the elections.
Mistrust of the BJP-led government over the Article 35A runs in the Valley as the party has openly been against some of these special rights and privileges. The political parties suspect that the Centre's request to adjourn a case challenging Article 35A in Supreme Court is a ruse. Once the local body polls are over, the challenge to Article 35A will be very real, feel Kashmiri leaders.
In Delhi, officials brushed off the election boycott by the National Conference and the PDP, saying both parties will field proxy candidates and are trying to keep them safe. "That way they would be able to gauge their strength in ground also," said an official, adding the affiliations of the candidates will be known once the elections are over.
There are also a view that the parties are resisting the local bodies polls as that would divest lawmakers of their powers and funds. "Once local and urban body elections are held, powers would be delegated and the funds will shrink," said a senior administrator on ground.
The home ministry is out to fulfill Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Independence Day promise of holding local body polls election in Jammu and Kashmir, the officials said.
In his address from the ramparts of the Red Fort, PM Modi had said he had been getting requests to hold panchayat elections from village headmen of Jammu and Kashmir. "Now, the Government of India gives huge funds which go directly to the villages and this will help the village headmen to take their villages on the path of development. That is why we are moving forward in the direction of holding Panchayat elections and election to City Councils," he had said.
State chief Secretary BVR Subramanyam made it clear that the timeline given by the Prime Minister would be followed.
"Panchayat polls are on. Local body polls are on... The decision was taken in July, the voter lists have been finalised, constituencies have been delimited and reservations made," JK Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam told reporters. Notification for the elections will be issued by the officials and the elections will take place around November 5, he added.
The elections for the local bodies were held last in 2005 after around 25 years. Official figures revealed that local bodies' elections in the state have been conducted only four times -- 1956, 1972, 1980 and 2005.