SRINAGAR: Amid deepening political crisis in Jammu and Kashmir, Governor N N Vohra, in a significant announcement, said the urban local body and Panchayat polls, which have been delayed for several years, will be held from September.

The announcement comes amid simmering tensions in the Valley and fiery speculations that the BJP is moving to form the government with the help of the ‘rebel’ MLAs of the PDP, its former ally, and Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference.

“Elections to urban local bodies will take place in September and October while the phased Panchayat polls will be held in October-December,” Vohra said today in his independence day speech at the garrisoned Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium here.

Vohra said the delay in the establishment of democratically-elected self-governing bodies at the grassroots level in urban and rural areas has resulted in the loss of considerable funds which would have become available if elections had been held.

The last panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir were held in 2011. Although the PDP-BJP coalition government had announced that these polls will be held soon, the worsening security situation dampened their plans. The urban local body elections have not been held for nearly eight years.

Officials said around 74 lakh people are eligible to cast votes in the elections. While the number of urban electorate is nearly 16 lakh, the number of rural electorate is 58 lakh. The government will fill up the positions of 35,096 panchs and 4,490 sarpanchs from the panchayat halqas. Besides, members will be elected for 80 urban local bodies.

The elections will be the first major challenge for the Governor’s administration in Jammu and Kashmir as well as the security forces who are facing increasing hostility from the civilian population over the last three years due to rising violence that has resulted in civilian casualties.

“Due to the ‘Operation All-Out’ and its fallout on the civilian population especially in south Kashmir, it will be a big challenge for the Governor’s administration. The groundswell of new age militancy will definitely cast a shadow on the whole process,” Prof Noor A Baba, Dean of Social Science at Central University of Kashmir, said.

Vohra, for whom New Delhi is actively seeking a replacement, is also aware of the anger on the ground. In his I-Day speech, he appealed all political parties in the state to support the administration to foster an environment in which the elections become conducive.

"This would, in turn, pave the way for the restoration of peace and normalcy and enable the state to take on bigger challenges," he said.

However, the mainstream parties have expressed concerns over the security situation in Kashmir and its impact on the upcoming polls, “The administration should ensure a conducive and enabling environment before the polls take place. In the present scheme of things, it looks very difficult,” Nasir Aslam, of the National Conference, said.

The Congress is also skeptical about the elections. “The government must first ensure that the candidates are provided adequate security. Situation in Kashmir has gone from bad to worse and holding elections in this climate will put the lives of the candidates at grave risk,” J&K Congress’s vice-president, G N Monga, said.

(Cover Photograph Basit Zargar)