We had to sit and take note of what the European Union wanted the Government of India to do in Jammu and Kashmir – hold the Assembly elections at the earliest. This was unexpected, to say the least.
This suggestion has to be analysed on two counts – a friendly advice by fellow democracies or something that was incumbent on the government to do for restoring complete normalcy in J&K, which, in the international perception, is yet to reach to the desired levels of normalcy.
The EU’s statement was not unifocal. Its two dimensions are clear from its contents. “We look forward to a number of other important steps to be taken in the political and economic sphere, including the early organization of the legislative assembly elections.”
This part indicates that the EU has detected the important steps already taken by the Government – the holding of the District Development Council elections, and the resumption of the 4G mobile internet services. But it wanted few more steps that could offer a full view of the democracy in action in Kashmir.
This particular observation was more telling: “ The right to freedom of expression online and offline is a key value for all democracies.”
Perhaps, the EU had not heard Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s independence-day speech from the ramparts of the iconic Red Fort on August 15, 2020, where he had made a specific mention of holding the Assembly elections in J&K once the Delimitation Commission’s work ( of drawing constituencies) was over.
He had stated it very clearly that the people of J&K would elect their own MLAs, and have their own ministers and Chief Minister. He had drawn a full picture of the Assembly polls and the government of the people of J&K. Now the Delimitation Commission has started its work, and it is expected to be over by June-end, or a little later, and the Assembly polls, it seems, would be held by the end of 2021.
The PM had made this announcement on august 15, 2020, at least two months before the Panchayati Raj Act amendment of October 16, 2020 was made. The amendment had opened the doors for holding of the DDC polls for the first time in J&K- giving a real time taste of the grassroots democracy in all its forms and manifestation.
The EU’s suggestion apart, the political understanding and sensitivity of the place as also the issue involved tell us that that Assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir is an internal affair of the country. There must have been something that made the MEA not to speak at all, for it must have realized that there was no point of making it an issue when, in any case, the government is already committed to holding the assembly polls anytime between October – December this year.
When the history of this period would be written, a fault line will appear quite strikingly that the foreigners spoke about it. The reason is that the DDC polls and its outcome were over publicised to make the world to see and hear that how the democracy has taken roots in J&K; here a point was ignored that the adverse remarks about the previous elections or absence of the grassroots democracy is a flaw-ridden narrative. We could have counted our DDC success without such remarks as well. There was absolutely no need to charge all the previous state governments with the homicide of the grassroots democracy. This could have been introduced as a breathing and watering of new era of democracy. There could have been the temptation to draw the comparisons and assert that the real-grassroots democracy has been established for the first time, this was understandable, but comparisons, when drawn with regard to the sensitive places and people often draw many other parallels in which real things may not receive the desired benign spotlight.
If August 5, 2019, when J&K was stripped of its special status and divided into two Union Territories, is an internal affair, the DDC polls, too, fall in the same category. And if the DDC polls are showcased internationally – as it was done before the visiting envoys last week, the opportunity for further suggestions was offered to them.
The other perspective could be that the GoI by enabling the envoys to “see the situation on the ground (in J&K) and interact with local interlocutors as part of the EU’s outreach to all stakeholders” was also looking for further suggestions. After all democracies do interact and work in an atmosphere of mutual exchange of ideas to move ahead. That became clearer when the EU said “ We look forward to continuing dialogue with India on this.”