Notwithstanding the pressure from the political class, the majority opinion is in favour of a delayed Assembly election in the state of Jammu & Kashmir
Though the State was placed under Governor’s Rule on June 20, 2018, the State Assembly was kept under suspended animation as permitted by the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) Constitution. The Assembly was finally dissolved on November 21 putting at rest all attempts by the unholy alliance of NC-PDP-Congress to form a government ostensibly to “safeguard the autono-mous status of the State”.
There was a mixed response to the decision of the State Governor with the majority welcoming the decision. It was also an attempt by Kashmir-centric leaders to isolate Jammu and Ladakh and establish a Kashmiris-dominated government so that their political fortunes are safeguarded and pressure exerted on the Central Government to go soft on taking measures which were perceived to be against the interests of the Kashmiris. The fact is that the decision of the Government of India (GOI) to go ahead with conducting of local bodies and Panchayat elections despite the boycott call by both the Valley-centric parties like NC and PDP came as a rude shock to the leadership of both the parties. They had assumed that the government would succumb to their pressure and abandon the elections, as it happened in the past. Empowerment of the common man is against the basic ideology of both the dynastic parties of the State. Moreover, fear of loss was also haunting them as the people were utterly dissatisfied with both parties.Empowerment of the common man is against the basic ideology of both the dynastic parties of the State. Moreover, the fear of loss was also haunting them as the people were utterly dissatisfied with both partiesWith the successful conduct of elections harsh reality dawned upon them. They realised that they might soon get marginalised in Kashmiri politics. The Congress also failed to perform well as per the expectations of its leadership and was forced to face the reality of the growing challenge posed by BJP. The emergence of an alternative in the form of a third front became a cause of concern for these two parties who were already facing internal dissent due to lack of inner party democracy.
Strangely, the same parties, which had earlier boycotted of the Parliament and Assembly elections as well an assurance from the Union Government on non-interference with Article 35A, now began to demand the dissolution of the Assembly and holding of fresh elections. Their purported aim of their huddling together with the Congress to supposedly to save “special status” of the State is a sham, while their true intent was to prevent BJP from emerging as a formidable political force in the Valley in the already limited political space in the Valley. “Autonomy” for Valley-based leaders of all colours means unbridled exploitation of state resources for the exclusive benefit of one region only. Feeling threatened by various actions being taken by the State Administration Council under the the newly appointed Governor is another reason that compelled them to cobble together an alliance, despite their blatant ideological differences. The alibi of safeguarding special status is only for gaining the support of the separatists by emotional blackmailing of the Kashmiris.
Now that the Assembly has been dissolved, the political grapevine in the State is rife with opinions for holding of Assembly elections. The three options being discussed here are: before Parliamentary elections, along with the Parliamentary elections and after the General elections. While the political class is batting for an early election, the general public is in favour of delayed elections. Those wanting early elections are quoting the Supreme Court ruling of holding elections within six months of dissolution. The State may be placed again under President’s rule with effect from December 20 under Article 356 of the Constitution of India, in an extended spell of the President’s rule, for which there already exists a precedence.
When the State was placed under Governor’s rule in June this year, some serious issues necessitated the imposition of Governor’s rule. These included rampant corruption, blatant regional discrimination, pro-separatist sentiments, soft approach towards anti-terror operations, worsening law and order and rank nepotism. A thorough analysis needs to be done to know if the desired aim of the Governor’s rule has been achieved or not. The general opinion is that the Governor’s administration has made a good beginning under the able guidance of governor Satya Pal Malik but it is just a beginning. And we have a long way to go before people’s confidence can be restored to support a popular government.
While dissolving the Assembly the Governor observed that no single party or a combination of other parties could provide a stable government in the present environment. Nothing much has changed ever since. The Governor also expressed his concern about the situation needed for the security forces to conduct counter terror operations. “The security scenario in the state of J&K is very fragile where there is a clear need to have a ‘stable and supportive’ environment for security forces which are engaged in extensive anti-militancy operations and are gradually gaining control over the security situation,” the governor’s office said. Will the Kashmir-centric political parties support the operation of the security forces, which they term as ‘muscular policy’ of the State?
A dispassionate review of the situation will deduce that the State of J&K is not yet ripe for a popular government. For that, the Election Commission of India (ECI) will need to take a holistic view and support a delayed election to the State Assembly, after some of the issues ailing the state are addressed with security being paramount. The political class will disagree for obvious reasons but the need is to ignore the political interests and instead promote the national interest.
The arguments that tilt the balance towards holding delayed elections are many and may vary with different perceptions. However, there are many which have universal acceptance. These can be summarised as follows:-
The Security Forces will get adequate time to build a secure environment and take “Operation All Out” to a logical conclusion.
The dividends of establishing ULBs and Panchayats will be much larger as the elected representatives would get adequate time to showcase their performance and regain public confidence. The Panchayati Raj system needs time to stabilise without much political interference. Keeping in view, the known opposition to these institutions of the NC and PDP, they would tamper with their smooth functioning and create hurdles for the same.
Governor’s administration will get adequate time to carry out people-friendly acts and address the flagged issues, thereby setting a benchmark for good governance.
An early popular government, particularly Kashmir-centric, is likely to repeal all the reforms announced by the governor denying their dividend to ordinary citizens.
The newly born bonhomie between NC, PDP and Congress may not be able to last for that long a period. This opportunistic alliance is not in the long-term interest of the state. Late Mufti Mohd Sayeed had rejected the formation of such a coalition in 2014 as a disaster for state’s integrity.
The requirement of a third front as an alternative to the dynastic parties is the need of the hour. Delayed elections would provide adequate time for the emergence of the Third Front.
NIA will get sufficient time to tighten the noose against hawala dealers as well as overground sympathisers of militancy.
Long-standing Jammu specific projects like AIIMS, Ujh Barrage, Gondola, Three tier parking, four-laning etc., Tawi River Front, Border tourism, which were the victim of regional discrimination, would get adequate time to take off and complete.
Lust for power and intra-party dissensions will not allow the idea of an unholy opportunistic alliance to last for very long in the state.
(The writer is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst)