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Kashmir panchayat polls to be held by April


Jammu : Jammu and Kashmir will hold panchayat polls by April after a gap of seven years despite the separatists’ boycott threat and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party’s reservations about the timing of the elections, an official here said Monday.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the unified command, an apex panel of the security officials, chaired by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah here Sunday.

Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who guided the summer agitation in the Kashmir Valley last year that claimed over 100 lives, has called for a boycott of the panchayat polls.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti had said in a statement that the timing was “not conducive for the panchayat polls” as the “situation was yet to stabilise” after the summer unrest in the Valley.

After the joint command meeting, an official who attended it told IANS: “It was decided that the polls be conducted and completed by April. The first phase can be held in the Jammu region, followed by the polls in the Kashmir Valley.”

Informed sources said Abdullah wanted the polls to be held to empower people at the grassroots and show the separatists where they stand.

“It was decided to go ahead with the panchayat polls across Jammu and Kashmir because it was felt that democracy must percolate to the grassroots level, as the villages cannot be left without participation in the democratic institutions that empower them,” a source quoted Abdullah as saying at the meeting.

Security agencies, including the army and paramilitary forces, assured the meeting that militants would not be allowed to disturb the polls. According to the intelligence agencies, people were, in fact, waiting for the elections to be held, the sources added.

The panchayat polls, it was felt at the meeting, would serve two purposes — empower people at the grassroots level, and, secondly, show that the separatists were not having much ground as the people had rebuffed their poll boycott in the 2008 assembly polls when over 60 percent people took part in the voting process.