National Conference President Farooq Abdullah on Tuesday expressed regret that his party did not take part in the September 2018 panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, PTI reported.

The National Conference had boycotted the elections, demanding that the Centre should clarify its position on Article 35A of the Constitution. Article 35A gave special rights to the “permanent residents” of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. It also barred outsiders from owning immovable property there.

“I regret that my party didn’t participate in panchayat polls,” Abdullah said at a parliamentary outreach programme in Srinagar on Tuesday.

After the Centre abrogated Articles 370 and Article 35A and bifurcated the erstwhile state into Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh on August 5, 2019, the National Conference also boycotted the Block Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir in October 2019.

On August 24, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration adopted a resolution demanding the restoration of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution. The alliance, which comprises six parties including the National Conference, was formed in October with the objective of reinstating Article 370. The National Conference president heads the alliance.

The resolution was adopted after a meeting at Abdullah’s house. The alliance described the August 5 decision as “unconstitutional” and called for the “re-unification of J&K and Ladakh as a state”.

Security to panchayat leaders

The National Conference president on Tuesday demanded that panchayat leaders should be given protection by the security forces because they were being targeted by terrorists, The Times of India reported.

Earlier this month, suspected militants shot dead Ghulam Rasool Dar, a sarpanch associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party, and his wife Jawahira in Anantnag district. In June 2020, unidentified militants shot dead Ajay Pandita, a 40-year-old Kashmiri Pandit sarpanch in the same district.

“The politicians who are standing with the country are target of the terrorists, and it is for the country to protect them,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah asked Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, who was present at the event, to instruct officials to attend to people’s phone calls. He alleged that officials in the Union territory do not pick up calls “as if some ghost is hanging upon them”, according to PTI.

He said that a government will soon be formed in Jammu and Kashmir that will make government officials answerable to the public.

The National Conference president also remarked at the event that India was a diverse country, and “a single religion cannot build the nation”, The Times of India reported. “...what unites us?” he asked. “It is our will to make a diverse nation that unites us. We need to protect our diversity.”