The fear of violence during the visit of US President Donald Trump likely led to a sudden postponement of the Panchayat body elections in Jammu and Kashmir, several government officials told HT on condition of anonymity.
The sudden deferment was announced late on Tuesday night through a notification issued by the chief electoral officer (CEO), Shailendra Kumar. “Credible inputs from the law enforcement agencies” were cited as the reason for the postponement of the polls that had been announced on February 13.
The deferment also came after the CEO had issued notifications for the first two phases, scheduled to commence from March 5. The eight-phase election, the first since J&K became a Union Territory on October 31 after the nullification of Article 370, which gave the state its special status, was meant to elect local body representatives for the approximately 12,000 vacant seats.
“There was a fear that the targeted killing of a prospective candidate or the sheer lack of participation could be an embarrassing development at a time when Trump was on Indian soil,” an official familiar with the development said.
As per the notification for phase one, candidates were expected to file their nominations by February 22, followed by scrutiny on February 24 and withdrawals by February 26. Trump will be in India on February 24 and 25.
A second government official said, “The dates coincided with the US President’s visit and there were fears of violence.” Another senior Election Commission official gave similar reasons, saying that previous visits by US Presidents had also been marked by violence. “There appears to be apprehension that the Kashmir issue would get highlighted if even one candidate got targeted,” the official said.
The polls are being boycotted by all mainstream political parties other than the Bharatiya Janata Party. The National Conference, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Congress have consistently maintained that they will not participate in the elections whilst their leaders were in jail. Two former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, are currently in detention under the provisions of the stringent Public Safety Act, which allows authorities to detain a person for up to two years without a trial.
Officials in Jammu and Kashmir, however, said that there were also fears about the fading health of separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
The notification issued by the CEO said that a fresh notification would be issued in “two to three weeks”.
“Trump’s visit seems to be the only immediate reason for the temporary deferment of the election,” the first official quoted above said, adding, “Law and order concerns in a place like Jammu and Kashmir will continue beyond the two to three week period.”