Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir in his Independence Day speech today. He said people from the state were meeting him with requests to hold the polls. He said the elections will be conducted in the next few months.
"Every villager from Jammu and Kashmir has been demanding me for the past one year. The panch meet me in hundreds and they are demanding that panchayat elections should be held in the state. It is stalled for some time, but I am happy that elections will be held over the next few months and people will get to exercise their right," PM Modi said.
Governor NN Vohra went a step further and announced a time frame. He said," Elections to urban local bodies are scheduled to take place during September-October and the phased panchayat polls during October- December this year".
Sources said the Governor had been keen to hold these polls. The elections would give the administration a chance to test the waters regarding the security situation ahead of assembly and Lok Sabha elections to be held next year.
The panchayat polls got delayed in 2016 because of the unrest following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Last year, the polls were cancelled due to security concerns. The BJP-PDP government led by Mehbooba Mufti had told the centre that the situation was not conducive for the polls.
The previous panchayat polls were held in 2011, while the urban body elections have not been held for eight years.
In the panchayat polls in 2011, more than 4,000 sarpanch and 29,000 panch were elected, and the voter turnout was around 80 per cent. 16 panchayat members were reportedly killed and 30 injured in terrorist attacks in the valley in 2011.
"We as political parties will be part of the elections any time, but with the hope that the present government will take adequate care for the overall security scenario and proper domination will be done, so that nobody gets hurt and there is no violence", said Rafi Mir, spokesperson, PDP.
The panchayat elections will be held after the extremely low voter turnout in the parliamentary bypolls for the Srinagar seat in 2017. Clearly, the elections will be a test for the security establishment before the upcoming assembly and parliamentary elections in the state.