Days after separatists linked the recently announced Panchayat polls with the Kashmir issue to enforce a voter boycott, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday again called on the people to vote in large numbers to strengthen the grassroots democracy in the restive state.”The government is committed to empowering the grassroots level institutions. The proposed elections to the Panchayats and later to be followed by the urban local bodies polls are a major step in this direction and will fully empower the basic democratic institutions,” Mehbooba said.Seeking larger participation of the people in the Panchayat elections scheduled to be held from February 15, Mehbooba said her government had made a commitment on the floor of the House in June 2016 that the elections to the rural and urban local bodies would be held at the earliest.She added that the State’s Election Authority would formally set the process into motion after the Rural Development Department issues the requisite notification in accordance with the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act.Mehbooba’s statement comes two days after Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL)of separatists called upon the people to boycott the Panchayat polls and claimed that India is using the election to negate Kashmiris demand for “self-determination and freedom”.JRL is an amalgam of Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Geelani, Moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik.
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