Jammu: The Congress is ready to take part in the by-elections to panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir if its leaders are released and their free movement is ensured, senior party leader G A Mir said on Monday.
Bypolls to over 12,500 panchayats in the union territory will be held in eight phases from March 5 to March 20.
"We challenge the BJP and the government to ensure the release of all Congress leaders and allow their free movement with adequate security, the party is willing to take part in the ongoing elections, despite strong reservations over the mode and manner of unilaterally conducting these elections on party basis, without taking all recognised mainstream parties on board," J&K Congress president Mir told reporters here.
Taking strong exception to the government "unilaterally" announcing the by-elections to panchayats on party basis, he said the first elections to these bodies were held on non-party basis but still the Congress is not averse to the bypolls and would contest it, "if all our leaders are released and allowed all sorts of genuine political activities in a secure atmosphere".
Mir said even today he was not allowed to go to Kashmir despite giving a written request last evening to the administration.
"It is a reality that over 12,500 seats, which is over 60 per cent seats in the Kashmir valley, remained unfilled in the last elections but the government had made tall claims of smooth and successful elections in the Kashmir region," he said.
"How elections on non-party basis and now on party basis are being held to the same institution," Mir asked.
He also accused the BJP of weakening the panchayat raj institutions during their tenure by making "retrograde" amendments to the Panchayat Act.