No relief for 3 former CMs; parties welcome decision to delay panchayat bypoll

Srinagar: Three former Chief Ministers and several heads of different mainstream political parties continued to remain under detention in the valley, where political parties have reacted sharply on setting up a Commission to initiate delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the political parties in the newly created Union Territory (UT) of Jammu & Kashmir have welcomed deferment of bypolls to over 12,500 panchayat seats that had been scheduled to be held in eight phases from March 5. The parties said that the atmosphere was not conducive for elections in view of continued detention of top politicians and gag on political activity since abrogation of special status of J&K.

Chief electoral officer Shailendra Kumar on Tuesday said the bypolls had been postponed by three weeks due to security concerns, almost a week after he announced the schedule for the elections.

Three main political parties Congress, National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have welcomed the decision of the Election Commission (EC) and termed the deferment a sensible move. Over 60 per cent of seats in the Valley remained vacant in 2018 as NC and PDP had boycotted panchayat elections amid concerns over the erstwhile state’s special status.

“The problem of the centre is that it doesn’t take into confidence people while talking public interest decision… and nothing interests people more than getting their representative elected whether it is in panchayat or Assembly elections. They have a crocked sense of democracy. Most of the vacant seats are in Kashmir and as we know the situation in not conducive to hold polls as top leadership of political parties are in custody. So it is a welcome step by EC to defer the polls,” NC additional general secretary Mustafa Kamal told UNI.

Terming the deferment of bypolls is a good move, a Congress leader said that his party had raised several issues over the conduct of the polls with the EC.

Similar views were expressed by leaders of other political parties in the valley.

Meanwhile, majority of these leaders, including 3 ex CMs – Dr Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – and dozens of other leaders were detained on August 5, when centre scrapped Article 370, 35 A besides divided the state into two Union Territories (UTs). However, about 30 leaders, including former ministers and legislators, were released after they gave an undertaking that they will not raise the issue of abrogation of special status of the state.

Dr Abdullah, president of the National Conference (NC), vice president Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, President of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), NC general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar and Peoples Movement chief Dr Shah Faesal have been booked under Public Safety Act (PSA).

Over 300 leaders, mostly separatists and stone pelters have also been arrested under PSA in the valley since the imposition of Governor and later Presidents rule after PDP-BJP, headed by Mehbooba, collapsed when saffron withdraw from the alliance in June 2019.
However, over 30 leaders, including former ministers and legislators, were released after they gave in writing that they will not raise the issue of scrapping of abrogation of special status of the erstwhile state after their release.
Official sources said that PSA was slapped on Dr Faesal who heads Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement (JKPM). These leaders reportedly refused to sign affidavit that they will not raise the issue of special status of the state.

Omar Abdullah’s detention has been challenged in the Supreme Court by his sister. The Apex court has fixed next date of hearing on March 2 after issuing notice to Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory (UT) administration.

Peoples Conference (PC) chairman Sajjad Gani Lone, who was a minister in PDP-BJP coalition government from Saffron party quota, was released from Sub jail and later put under house arrest.

There are still about 13 former ministers and legislators detained in Sub jail MLA hostel. The leaders under detention since August 5 included, former minister and chief spokesperson of PDP-BJP coalition government Naeem Akhtar, who was also booked under PSA.

A large number of separatist leaders, including spokespersons of both the factions of the Hurriyat Conference (HC), JKLF chief Mohammad Yaseen Malik, Democratic Freedom Party (DPF) Shabir Ahmad Shah besides Kashmir Bar Association (KBA) Mian Abdul Qayoum also remained under detention. Majority of them are detained in Delhi’s jail and other state prisons.