Panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir -- scheduled to be held next month -- have been postponed, the Chief Electoral Officer said, with the government citing the law and order situation in a move contrary to its claims of normalcy returning in the area. The election for a local government was expected to be the first big political exercise since the state was bifurcated into two union territories.
The last panchayat election was held in Jammu and Kashmir in November 2018 - months after the ruling coalition between the BJP and Mehbooba Mufti collapsed and the state was placed under Governor's Rule. Assembly elections have not been held since, and Jammu and Kashmir continues to be under Central rule.
The postponement of the polls comes on a day when opposition parties, including the National Conference, PDP and the Congress, met the Chief Electoral officer in Jammu and said they were willing to take part in the polls only if their leaders are released from detention, in order to provide a level playing field.
While the last round of the panchayat elections was not held on party lines, and was boycotted by the NC and PDP, this time the polls were to be fought on party lines. Over 12,000 seats were left vacant from that poll, which were expected to be filled now.
But late this evening, Jammu and Kashmir's Chief Electoral Officer said in a statement that they were advised by the Jammu and Kashmir home department to "consider deferring the conduct of the polls based on credible inputs from the law enforcement agencies".
Since August, when the Centre had ended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir granted under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated the state into two union territories, key political leaders of Kashmir Valley - including former Chief Ministers Mehboba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and his father Farooq Abdullah, have been under detention.
The detention of the political leaders was part of a series of restrictions placed on Jammu and Kashmir since August, which the Centre said were precautionary measures. These restrictions, the Centre had said, would be lifted in phases as the situation normalises.
Since January, the Centre has facilitated the visit of two groups of foreign envoys so they can have a first-hand experience of the growing normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir.