Why this urgency over 'Jammu and Kashmir' local body polls?

The polling stretches over a two-month period from early October to early December at a time when there is political turbulence in the air.

The J&K state election commission has announced the dates for the polls in municipalities and rural panchayats in Kashmir, but there is no enthusiasm for the exercise in the J&K Valley. The polling stretches over a two-month period, from early October to early December, at a time when there is political turbulence in the air.

The immediate cause of the current troubles is the challenge to the validity of Article 35A of the Constitution by a RSS-linked NGO on grounds that call into question fundamental issues regarding the accession of J&K to India, such as not permitting those outside the state to own property in J&K. This bewilders Kashmiris.

The Supreme Court was to hear the case last month but the state government, now under Central rule, and the Centre urged it to postpone the hearing till January due to fears of violence if the court ruling pointed in a direction that might cause injury to Article 35A.

The most significant regional party, National Conference, immediately announced its boycott of the polls until the Centre spelt out its own reading of the constitutional provision. The PDP, until recently the BJP’s ally in the state, followed suit. On Monday, the CPI(M) too pointedly decided to keep away for the same reasons.

The Congress has taken no decision yet but its state leaders have repeatedly noted the difficulties ahead. The NC has warned it may also boycott the next parliamentary and Assembly elections.

If the major state parties skip the municipal and panchayat polls, it’s not clear if independents will come forward. The fear of likely violence during the election has increased due to the discord over Article 35A. The mainstream parties and the separatists have made common cause on this issue. It is just possible the BJP alone will be in the fray, mainly in the Jammu region. That will make a mockery of the exercise.

On Monday, home minister Rajnath Singh urged the mainstream parties to reconsider their boycott, but gave no reasons for his appeal. That appears odd. Local bodies’ elections were last held in 2005. Since then, for a variety of reasons, the circumstances haven’t been judged conducive for these elections. It’s far from clear why the Government of India insists that the municipal and panchayat polls be held this year when the state is under Governor’s Rule.

An immediate release to the gripping tension can probably occur if the Centre disavows the RSS’ challenge to Article 35A, or if the Supreme Court throws it out. Twice before Constitution Benches appointed by the court have upheld the validity of the provision in question, yet the Supreme Court has once again permitted the questioning of its existence.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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