J&K: Path to Elections

The political parties in Kashmir wasted time in recognizing the realism of the times
J&K: Path to Elections
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e Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir are being awaited for long now. This proposed exercise has become more than a routine political exercise that takes place at regular intervals in other states, and the union territories in the country. The elections in this territory has far bigger importance than elsewhere. When blue ink misses its scheduled date with the fingers of voters, it has consequences. This, if nothing else, gives birth to narratives of frustration and resultant situations, to put it mildly. But, then we are aware that these are the extraordinary circumstances, which explain delay in holding of the polls, which, in normal circumstances, should have been held by May 2019. The Assembly was dissolved on November 21, 2018.

The first failure of the political parties was that, at the time BJP withdrew support to the PDP government, the then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti should have recommended dissolution of the Assembly on June 19, 2018 itself. Second, no political party wanted to go to the people. National Conference leaders did not favour elections because they thought the situation was not conducive for polls. BJP was in favour of having an alternative government with the help of the People’s Conference and some of the leaders from PDP. Congress, as usual, was confused. By the time the Kashmir-centric parties decided to have a government, the time had slipped out of their hands. Without any consultation, the Governor Satya Pal Malik dissolved the House, and the reasons advanced by him were superficial. Had the parties resolved that time to have polls in June 2018, the current situation might not have arisen.

Today, the things have changed. J&K is not a special status anymore, its legislative assembly will have far reduced powers than the ones it had prior to August 5, 2019, when the constitutional changes made all the difference to the political and electoral landscape. The constitution of the Delimitation Commission, and hopefully its ongoing work is taking its own time in determining the poll calendar.

In 2021, as the things stand the polls embody so many things: the will of the people beyond their preference for a political group or groups to form the government which can own the responsibility to govern and chart a new course of fulfilling the long-pending issues. Elections are unavoidable, and it is pointless to draw any comparisons for the upcoming elections – no one can predict the schedule of the polls as of now, because there are so many strings attached to it now.

A hypothesis of sorts is in public domain as to what these elections ( many presume these would be held in 2022) , would mean for Jammu and Kashmir, the erstwhile state , now divided into the two union territories. Only one UT- J&K- will go to polls, Ladakh is not having any such institution. So, it would be quite fair to say that, a part of the former state, will have tryst with the elections in the post dissolution of the state and scrapping of the special status era.

Let’s go by what Home Minister Amit Shah, the most credible voice on the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir, for MHA is handling the Kashmir affairs, said about the polls. He quite comprehensively outlined the way things will move.

First, Delimitation Commission, constituted in March 2020, will submit its report and recommendations, which are more or less known; that it will allocate 90 seats to the whole of the UT. Its report is expected to come before Commission’s extended deadline of March 2022.

Home Minister made it very clear that the ( Assembly ) elections will be held only after the Delimitation Commission report is available, and it is expected that it would undo the injustice and discrimination that J&K suffered in the past. Third, the most significant, the restoration of the statehood to J&K. That was amplified reiteration of his own promise, made by him on August 5, 2019, the day Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional and geographical status, was changed by the Parliament. Amit Shah made these assertions, during his four-day-visit of Jammu and Kashmir in October, the first since abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution.

As such, the central government sees that J&K faces no problems. Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha’s administration has stabilized the environment, despite Himalayan odds. The challenges that he faced, and overcame, can be understood only by those aware of the circumstances which had arisen out of the severity of the first and second wave of the pandemic of Covid-19 and the resultant crises. But, he knows that the elections are important in a democracy. The successful panchayat and District Development Council polls have drawn new democratic imperatives for Jammu and Kashmir, where such institutions existed in books previously. This needs further boost and that would come only after the Assembly elections are held.

At this moment, the political parties are talking of elections, most of them are agreeable to contest the polls in the current UT status, a reflection of the realism. They have no other option.

The problem with the parties in J&K is that they are confused. They have shifted gears. The least, they could have done, was to reach a consensus as to when the polls should be held. They should have mentioned it clearly. They realized the importance of realism quite late. They were lost in the debate whether they want the statehood first or elections in UT. Now, when it is clear that the elections will be held under the current status, why shouldn’t these parties be held accountable for their failure to see the reality at the first instance itself. They have wasted a lot of time and must be held accountable. The Delimitation Commission also owes the people of J&K an explanation as to why it has taken so much time. It is 21-month-old, and the pandemic period of 2020-2021 combine was less than 10 months. It should have realized how important Assembly polls are in J&K and expedited its work.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.