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Will take part in Jammu & Kashmir panchayat polls if curbs are lifted: Congress

Days after the dates for bye-elections to Panchayats were announced, the Jammu and Kashmir Congress party has said that it will take part in the polls if restrictions on its leaders were lifted and they are allowed to move freely.

State Party President Ghulam Ahmad Mir told IANS that the party cannot be expected to take part in the Panchayat bye-elections when its top leadership was barred from free movement in the Union Territory.

The Panchayat bypolls are going to be held in eight phases from March 5 in the Union Territory.

Mir said that an assurance should come from the administration that the leaders were free to move, then only the party can take part in the elections.

“We are not allowed to move freely,” Mir said. “Movement of the top leadership of the party has been restricted, even I as the state party president cannot move out of Jammu.”

He said the administration is applying different yard sticks for different phases of polling for the Panchayat elections.

“The first phase of the Panchayat elections in which 70 per cent of the members were held on non party basis, now we are told the elections will be held on party basis for electing the rest of 30 per cent members,” Mir said. “How can there be two rules for two phases of the Panchayat polls?”

He said normally Panchayat polls across the country are conducted on non party basis.

“With restrictions on leaders, no other party in J&K is free to mobilise the voters at the moment, it is only the BJP whose leadership is free,” Mir said.

Earlier, the National Conference had said that there was no point in taking part in the Panchayat polls on party lines when top leadership of the party continues to be under detention after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5.

Sources within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said with its top leadership under detention the party is yet to take a call on taking part in the elections.

J&K Chief Electoral officer Shailendra Kumar said on Thursday that bye-elections for close to 13,000 vacant Panchayat seats in the Union Territory will be held in eight phases beginning March 5.

The poll phases are scheduled to be held on March 5,7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20.

Panchayat elections were held in J&K in 2018, which were boycotted by the main Kashmir based political parties — the PDP and the National conference.

The electoral exercise has been announced at a time when three former chief ministers continue to be under detention since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5.

Public Safety Act (PSA) has been slapped on the three former chief ministers — Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

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