NEW DELHI: The local body polls in Jammu and Kashmir, slated in October-November, are likely to be delayed as the Bharatiya Janta Party’s local unit has been pushing for deferring the exercise at least till the 2024 parliamentary polls as it is averse to face any electoral battle before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, says The Wire news portal.
It says this demand comes amid anger in Dogri-speaking areas of Jammu over multiple governance and administrative issues.
The polls are being delayed despite the Union government’s claims of strengthening grassroots democracy in J&K and its recent submission before the Supreme Court that it is ready for elections in the UT.
BJP's Hints and Public Statements
After meeting Union home minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on September 25, J&K BJP leaders have dropped enough hints that local body polls wouldn’t be held in the near future, but the Lok Sabha polls will be held in April-May 2024 with the rest of the country.
While the BJP’s local unit is publicly making claims about being ready to face any electoral battle, it has conveyed to the party high command that holding local body elections before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls is not in the interests of the party.
While officials of J&K’s election bodies refused to comment on the matter, BJP’s general secretary (organisation) Ashok Koul said that no decision has been taken yet to defer the local body polls.
The BJP local unit is not in favour of holding civic polls as Jammu region – where it won both Lok Sabha segments in 2014 and 2019 and secured 25 out of 37 seats in the last assembly election held in the erstwhile state. It is upset over protests and shutdowns over a demolition drive, proposal for opening of Reliance retail stories, imposition of property tax, collection of toll at Sarore and installation of smart metres.
The disenchantment over these issues is more visible in urban pockets of Jammu, where the BJP has a traditional support base. The saffron party managed to capture the seat of Jammu’s mayor even in 2005 when the Congress-PDP was ruling the state.In the last urban local body polls held in 2018, BJP secured 43 seats out of 75.
Urban Discontent and Dissatisfaction
Some sections within the party feel that they could face reverses in local body polls due to a certain level of dissatisfaction in Jammu’s urban areas over some administrative decisions.
Senior journalist and political analyst Zaffar Choudhary said that the BJP’s defeat in local body elections could have direct bearing on the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. “If they lose the panchayat and municipal elections, that will have a direct bearing on the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in which every single seat matters for the BJP,” he said.
Opposition's Critique and Concerns
Amid indications of delay in local body polls, the political parties have started targeting the BJP, saying they are fearing defeat.
“Even the people of Jammu have gone against them. There is realisation that the BJP provoked them against Kashmir and created a Hindu-Muslim divide,” former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said.
Even National Conference leader Omar Abdullah last week said that local body polls could be deferred as the “BJP doesn’t want to face the anger of the people”. “I doubt (BJP’s) intentions. I fear even before the poll schedule is notified, the BJP will engage in some foul play,” Omar said during a workers’ meeting in Jammu.
Meeting to Discuss Delay
Meanwhile, opposition parties in J&K have called a meeting on October 3 to discuss the prevailing political situation and delay in elections.
Jammu and Kashmir has been without an elected government since June 2018, when it came under Governor’s rule. It doesn’t have any representative in the Rajya Sabha from February 15, 2021 against four seats allocated to it in the House.
Strengthening grassroots democracy
In the past five years, especially after reading down Article 370 and reorganising Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, the BJP-led Union government and administration of the J&K Union Territory has been making claims of strengthening grassroots democracy by holding elections to all three tiers of panchayati raj and urban local bodies.
The elections for local bodies were held after J&K came under Central rule in June 2018 following withdrawal of support by the BJP to the Mehbooba Mufti-led government, citing the deteriorating security situation in the then state.
On August 31, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing on behalf of the Union government in the Article 370 case, submitted before the apex court that they are ready for elections in Jammu and Kashmir but their timing would be decided by the Election Commission of India and State Election Commission. He said that three elections were due in Jammu and Kashmir, and the panchayat and municipality polls would take place before the assembly polls.