APM fails to reach consensus; coalition partners too differ

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti at the All Party Meeting in Jammu on Sunday.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti at the All Party Meeting in Jammu on Sunday.

Will consider all views before decision: CM

Excelsior Correspondent
JAMMU, Feb 4: The All Party Meeting (APM) called by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti today failed to reach a consensus on holding of Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir at this stage with some of the parties favouring immediate polls and others calling for taking detailed assessment of the situation into account before finalizing any such decision including the fact that the Government has failed to hold by-election to Anantnag Parliamentary seat.
The meeting saw the coalition partners openly speaking in different tones with BJP calling for holding elections to the Panchayats immediately and PDP favouring deferring them for some time to give chance to restoration of more peace and facilitate smooth tourist season.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti agreed with complaint voiced by majority of political parties that such a meeting should have been called earlier. She reportedly told the meeting that views expressed and suggestions given by all political parties at the APM would be taken into consideration before taking any decision on Panchayat elections.
Sources told the Excelsior that former Minister and DPN president Ghulam Hassan Mir was the lone voice from Kashmir, who openly favoured holding Panchayat elections immediately while majority of other political parties called upon the Government to assess security situation before taking any call on the election.
“The ruling elite don’t want to strengthen the democratic institutions at grass-root level taking excuses of agitations, winters etc as they don’t want to shed powers. I’m very clear that Panchayat elections should be held in the State. The sooner they are held, the better it would be,” Mir told the Excelsior after attending the APM.
Ruling PDP and BJP were not on the same page on holding Panchayat elections in the State at the APM.
PDP general secretary Rafi Ahmad Mir said the Panchayat elections should be deferred for some time to give chance to return of more peace and facilitate tourist season in Kashmir after nearly three years violence.
“Elections are unavoidable. They have to be held. However, there is need to have some more peace so that tourist season is not disturbed. It will be good if elections are deferred for some time,” Mir, who attended the APM along with senior party leader, Ved Mahajan, said.
However, PDP’s Alliance partner, BJP called for holding elections to the Panchayats immediately.
BJP president Sat Sharma ‘CA’, who led the party delegation at the meeting along with three general secretaries, Narinder Singh, Pawan Khajuria and Harinder Gupta, called for holding Panchayat elections immediately.
“There should be no delay in the elections. We should start the process immediately. Already, there has been a delay of one and a half year in the Panchayat polls,” Sharma said.
National Conference, the major Opposition party in Jammu and Kashmir and their former coalition partner, the Congress, almost had similar stance at the APM.
They said no one can oppose restoration of democratic institutions at grass-root level but it was duty of the Government to see whether the situation is conducive or not to undertake such an exercise.
NC leader and former Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar quoted party president, Dr Farooq Abdullah’s statement that if the State Government can’t hold elections to one Lok Sabha seat of Anantnag, how it will hold elections to large number of Panchayats.
“The ball is in the court of Government. They have to take a decision (on Panchayat elections) based on assessment of the situation,” Sagar said.
NC provincial president Devender Singh Rana said: “National Conference always stands for strengthening democratic institutions and, more so, at the grass-root level.
“We are not opposed to Panchayat elections. It was Omar Abdullah Government, which had held the elections in 2011. But whether the atmosphere is conducive or not for the elections has to be decided by the Government,” Rana said.
NC leaders Mohammad Akbar Lone and Nasir Ahmed Wani also attended the APM.
“Though all parties favoured holding of Panchayat elections for empowering of gross-root level institutions, majority view was that the situation is not conducive for the elections right now,” Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Abdul Haq Khan told reporters after the meeting here.
Khan said majority of the participants demanded deferment of the polls for a time being.
Congress leader Usmaan Majid, former Minister and MLA Bandipora, who attended the APM along with Congress senior leader and former Minister Sham Lal Sharma among others, said: “we projected our concerns at the meeting regarding postponement of Anantnag Parliamentary by-poll.
“If the Government can’t provide security to half a dozen candidates of Lok Sabha elections, how it will give protection to thousands of candidates, who were likely to contest Panchayat polls. It was task of the Government to see whether they were prepared to give security cover to candidates and voters for Panchayat elections,” Majid said, adding the Congress also voiced concern over indirect election of Sarpanchs and reiterated that old practice of direct elections of Sarpanchs be restored.
CPM veteran and fourth-time MLA MY Tarigami too asserted that situation in Kashmir was not so conducive and participation of people in the elections was real question.
“Nevertheless, the Government has to take a view keeping in view the participation of voters, security for candidates and other related issues,” Tarigami said, adding “undoubtedly, the democratic process and decentralization of powers at grass-root levels has to be restored. However, he admitted, the situation is not so conducive for the elections at present.
Nationalist Panthers Party (NPP) openly supported the holding of Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir immediately.
“Not only the Panchayats but elections should also be held immediately to Municipalities. Thousands of crores worth funds have been lost due to delay in holding the two elections. For mere ‘political considerations’, the Government is making people to suffer,” NPP leader and former Minister Harshdev Singh said.
Former Minister and PDF MLA Hakim Mohammad Yasin said: “every one wants elections as they are part of democracy at grass-root level. However, the Government should take the step after giving ‘serious thought’ to security situation especially in Kashmir.
Independent MLA Pawan Gupta proposed deferring of elections to April due to examination season in February-March. On Kashmir, he said, it was responsibility of the Government to assess the situation for holding elections.
People’s Conference Bashir Ahmed Dar and Independent MLA Engineer Rashid also attended the APM among others.