J-K panchayat elections likely in summer
The Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) government is likely to hold panchayat elections in the state after the annual Amarnath pilgrimage this summer and is working on a rehabilitation policy for young Kashmiris who have taken up arms, according to a senior official familiar with the government’s functioning.
The Mehbooba Mufti government has decided not to hold panchayat elections in “the current circumstances’’ as the environment is not favourable, but will do it in a few months, said the person quoted above.
Panchayat polls have been a long-standing demand in the state, but organisations including various trade groups had appealed to the CM to not hold elections before summer tourist season and the Amarnath yatra.
According to the official quoted above, the government is concerned about tourism this season. “Only 2,000 tourists are coming to the state per day which is not very encouraging,” the official said on condition of anonymity. According to the government, 73 lakh tourists arrived in the state in 2017, compared to 84 lakh in 2016 and 92 lakh in 2015.
Violence had erupted in Valley after last April’s bypolls, and Mehbooba has often said that the solution is a dialogue with separatists. “Separatists are under pressure from Pakistan not to start a dialogue. Infiltration is on a rise,” the official said.
A silver lining, however, is the return of some militants to the mainstream, said the official. “Many militants are returning back to mainstream after appeals from their families but we have to work out a protection policy for them...” the official said, adding that the government was working on a fresh rehabilitation policy for “misguided” Kashmiris.
The policy involves providing security protection as well as monetary support for a period of time. While the People’s Democratic Party has been pushing for a return of the militants (those who have no serious charges against them) to the mainstream, its alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not been on the same page because of its concerns over “national security”. Speaking in the legislative assembly (LA) on Monday, BJP MLA from Jammu’s Nowshera, Ravinder Raina, said: “A surrender and rehabilitation policy is a grave threat to the national security and this policy must be immediately scrapped.”
The state had formulated a policy in 2010 for Kashmiris who had gone to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for arms training but wanted to come back.