A Cliffhanger Election

The regional dynastic demagogues should devise a clear, concrete and credible agenda to stay relevant
Representational Image
Representational Image File/ GK

Just before I sat down to write this piece, the Election Commission of India (ECI) and Defense Minister, Rajnath Singh, sounded a poll bugle in Jammu and Kashmir. Suspense, thrill, drama & action constitutes an electoral exercise in India’s most politically sensitive region.

Past Tense

As the administration is gearing to have a ballot battle at the fag end of this year, the beleaguered regional parties-NC, PDP & PC, have been trying hard to find different ways to get out of the rut that they have got themselves into.

They have failed to address the inadequacies that have contributed to the making of the erstwhile state’s present predicament. With no clear roadmap, these parties have been cashing on emotions and sentiments.

Their inability to provide cohesive, decisive & vibrant leadership attests to the fact that they have not been sincere with the responsibilities they were entrusted with.

Instead of talking about real and serious structural issues, before the reading down of Article 370, their misleading narratives harmed the haggard community like never before.

Four turbulent years have passed since the saffron party walked out of an alliance with ‘the green group’.

PDP started falling like a pack of cards. No genuine politician, adhering to his principles, would quit just because the party is on a losing spree or the leadership is found wanting in directing the party.

Having served the party for long and reaped benefits from different portfolios when the party was in power and making a quiet exit and letting the party down is a classic case of political opportunism.

Future Perfect?

Popular will, one of the key foundations of modern democracy, is expressed in elections. Welfarism is the strongest election weapon. Only a leader with a clean image can take people into confidence.

For this reshuffle, our regional parties need a course correction. To win the voters, you need the right message to be delivered by a trusted leader.

Then you need machinery: a party that can convert the voice of dissent into electoral gains. If J & K has to be a model state, it has to accept and adopt the new thought, a new reality. Times have truly changed.

The most valuable asset in the political arena is “trust capital”, a key factor in ensuring winnability in elections. The trust is acquired, as a result of the intricate weaving of three elements - commitment, words & action, writes Professor Badri Narayan.

“Trust vote is slowly developed by building connections and delivering on promises.” But as we look back at the report card of Kashmir’s regional parties, they don’t have any significant achievements to boast about.

Politicians need to forge trustworthiness by responding to people’s aspirations. The regional leaders who know the pulse of the people can come up with new agendas: Mental health, climate change, reduced inequalities & civic issues like streamlining public transport.

Make public health a central focus. Promise people that you will lead the path of good governance. Ensure the availability, accessibility & affordability of basic amenities in the hinterland. Resettling our faulty education system to current day realities requires strong political leadership.

Family Fiefdom

Family rule doomed Srilanka. Pakistan is on the brink of collapse due to the family game. It is high time to have rationalization in Kashmir’s dynastic politics. Do the essential spadework and expand your political footprint. Allow, introduce and baptize young faces to your parties like a band of brothers.

Shah Faesal came up with fresh ideas but failed to execute them properly. He could do better, unlike the politicians who ruled Kashmir by default since they were born in politically privileged families.

Accommodating politicians hopping from one party to another is one of the reasons Faesal’s loyal fanbase lost trust in JKPM. Recently PDP dropped hints that 34-year-old Iltija Mufti may test the political waters this season after announcing her two-week interaction on its official Twitter handle. This will cut no ice.

When an outsider is seen as a threat, the parties don’t grow. Politicians collectively disdain nepotism and promise equal opportunities without any bias but the parties run by coteries foster mediocrity.

Dissension with PAGD and discontent against it has reduced it to be another irrelevant entity. Now, the unionists must engage with the like-minded political youth and rope them in with clear-cut policy. The visible rancor or the severed ties can be knitted. All parties must be meaningful participants in democracy.

New Players, New Game

The tussle for electoral space is bound to become intense since AAP, after a thumping victory in Punjab, is making inroads in Kashmir and will be a new player this fall. Families don’t serve, they mean profit. With no dynastic lineage, BJP and AAP are growing exponentially. BJP is governing 17 states. It has 301 MPs in Lok Sabha (55%) and 95 MPs in Raj Sabha (38%) and 1,379 MLAs (33%) across all states in the country.

In August 2014, it had just 3.5 crore members, now it has over 20 crore members. In 1984, of the 543 seats in Lok Sabha, BJP had 2 and Congress had 414 seats. The steep fall of congress has a reason: Dynasty. Arvind Kejriwal’s 10-year-old party is growing pan-India.

Back in Kashmir, the decline of regional parties is not a temporary phenomenon. They deserve all criticism for weakening their parties and showing little sign of gearing up to take on the richest party in India. To appeal to a diverse electorate, BJP has to moderate its pitch, otherwise, they will have to eat a humble pie.

The vocabulary of hate must be abandoned. The poll math can tilt only in favor of those who can ‘win the hearts and minds of voters.’ BJP has promised to change the ‘taqdeer’ and ‘tasveer’ (fate and image) of J&K with the mantra of sab ka Saath, sab ka Vikaas, sab ka Vishwas- the doctrine formulated by L.K. Advani- “development of all, appeasement of none.”

But it merits special mention that India’s Muslim population is the world’s third-largest (204 million) but the unprecedented moment in the history of our democracy for the first time is that the ruling party will have no Members of Parliament from the largest minority in Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha (when the terms of 3 of its Muslim MPs end this month).

It signals the under-representation of Muslims in higher echelons of power corridors. In secular India, BJP has no Muslim Members of the Legislative Assembly in the states. Is this what we call inclusivity, diversity, and pluralism- the bedrock of mature democracy?

Reframed K-grammar!

Kashmir continues to be in distress due to political idiosyncrasies. After the reading down of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status, New Delhi has written the obituary of the old grammar of K-politics. Regional parties have been brought to their knees.

They will have to rise from the ashes. To emerge from the shadows, parties have to wake up to the new realities and equip themselves to deal with them. Preparing an appropriate manifesto is real hard work and an uphill task. Can these parties be restored to their glorious past by doing the simple daring act: “let the seniors gracefully retire and fresh faces take the center stage.”

Over the past couple of years, much water has flown down the Jehlum and its nature has undergone a drastic change. Kashmiris are a bruised and battered community always used by different quarters for their ulterior motives.

They are still waiting for the balm on their wounds. There are no permanent bedfellows in Politics. Junior Abdullah knows very well that every mainstream political party gets Ashirwad from Delhi.

So, he should desist from calling new parties B and C teams of the ruling regime. What he and others can do, instead, is try to understand the existential crisis and prospectus of revival.

They will have to give up the old form of accommodative politics. What they need is, If I borrow a phrase, “organizational regeneration.” Moreover, they cannot enjoy impunity anymore since they will have to deal with the dilemma of dual governance till the statehood is restored.

A Litmus Test

This election to the J&K Legislative Assembly could be the swansong for many seasoned vote-seekers. Parties need to field out-of-the-clan newcomers, redesign a new plan of action & have continuous contact with people at the base. It would bring in immediate electoral dividends provided the rot is identified and flushed away. Simply put: decentralize parties. Workers act as support staff; they are an asset to any party. Own them.

MHA must ensure safe polls in the blood-guzzling valley. The health of democracy is measured by the safe space it provides for dissent. If a ruling party is scared of the opposition’s disagreement, it means its foundation is weak. In any robust democracy, votes are precious.

We go to a cobbler to mend our shoes but in politics, why do we presume everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a state. When we are ill, we go to a trained physician, whose degree is a guarantee of specific preparation and technical competence.

Well then, when the whole state is ill, should we not look for the service and guidance of the wise? Voters are wooed for the electoral battleground to capture the power ladder but remember Aristotle as you cast your precious vote for an honest representative, “They should rule who can rule best.”

“Stick may break, the stack doesn’t”- that parable about the bundle of sticks taught us union is strength. From Kamraz to Maraaz, Kashmir’s distinct feature is Yakjut (Unity). Given the toxic political climate of our time, we need to make a calculated choice while exercising our right to franchise.

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.

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