Under no circumstances, the local bodies elections should be called off in Jammu & Kashmir. These must be held by facing all odds. If needed slight revision in the already announced schedule by the Government can be carried out
For the first time in the past three decades of political turmoil in Kashmir, the separatists and both mainstream political parties have come on the same page and called for a boycott of elections. So far it was only the separatists and militants that were opposed to the democratic process. After the National Conference (NC) announced that it would stay away from the upcoming panchayat and urban local body elections, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) too declared its intention to boycott the elections that are slated to be held from October 1 this year. Have both the parties lost faith in the democratic process or are trying to follow the agenda of the separatists. Both parties in the past are they known to have resorted to the emotional exploitation of the section of the population that feels aggrieved and has been backing the separatists. Despite, the conduct of local body elections having been included in the Agenda of Alliance (AOA), Mehbooba Mufti had been reluctant to hold these elections on one pretext or the other at the behest of separatists who do not want any form of polls to be held in the Valley in future. NC is a divided house. While Farooq Abdullah is keen to hold elections his son Omar Abdullah and his coterie in the party is opposed to it. The boycott is proving lucky for the PDP in the sense that two of its rebel MLAs have returned to the party fold and accepted the leadership of Mehbooba Mufti. The Kashmiri way of politics is as unpredictable as the weather in Kashmir.
Protest against the multi-phase Panchayat polls scheduled to be held in J&K from October 1 under the shadow of the row over Article 35A
The Opposition of both mainstream parties from Kashmir is rooted in the political ideologies of both the parties. Both the parties have a feudal mindset and believe in the dynastic rule. The hereditary hierarchal system of the parties is against the basic concept of devolution of power. Centralised power is the backbone of their political ideologies. It is for this reason that these parties are opposed to the implementation of 73rd & 74th Amendments and continuously delayed the holding of elections to local bodies while they happily participated in State and Parliamentary elections. They are exploiting the regional and religious sentiments of the people by giving a communal touch to Article 35A. It is being used as an alibi to save their fiefdoms and dynasties so that they continue to control the utilisation of funds received from the centre and misuse them to fill their coffers and those of their cronies. By devolution of power to the grassroots level, they do not want to create a parallel challenge to their monopoly.
The mass base of both the parties has been eroded to a considerable extent which is also a cause of worry and one of the primary reasons leading to boycott. People are no more ready to be carried away by their rhetoric and false promises. Their leaders are scared of campaigning because they have no face to seek votes because they never cared to visit the electorate in the past three years and remained confined to the safety and security of the capital cities. The angst among the people is phenomenal and has been further compounded by the emotional exploitation of the sub judice Article 35A.
1. The Union Government should not succumb to the pressure of Kashmir-centric parties as it will encourage them to promote the separatist agenda
2. The hidden agenda behind the boycott is to strengthen the hands of the separatists and send a message internationally that Kashmir is so disturbed that it needs their intervention
Article 35A has been made an emotive issue at the behest of separatists. The mainstream parties were expected to educate the public and prepare them to accept the Supreme Court judgement in keeping with the highest traditions of our country. Instead, they chose the path of confrontation as advocated by Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) led by Syed Ali Shah Gilani. It is now being used as a blackmail tactic with a two-fold aim. Firstly, to unite all Muslims across the state and make it a common issue; secondly: to exert pressure on the Centre to go slow on the actions being taken to tighten the screws on Hurriyat leadership and other overground workers (OGWs). Both the mainstream parties are also trying to please and woo the cadre of Jamat-e-Islami Kashmir (JIK).
Another reason being quoted for U-turn by both the parties is prevailing disturbed environment in Kashmir. They claim that time is not ripe for the elections. It again is an alibi. The polls have been held in Kashmir under worse conditions in the past. In any case, apart from the Governor’s team, it is also the responsibility of political parties to shape the environment for the smooth conduct of polls. Instead, they are behaving in an exactly opposite direction by arousing passions and contributing to worsening the situation. This approach suits them in achieving their aim of preventing devolution of power.
The situation is not as grim as NC and PDP will like us to believe. There is a groundswell of joy and happiness in Jammu region as far as the conduct of these elections is concerned. The situation in the Valley is also ‘manufactured’ and can easily be brought under control. The Governor’s administration rather than rushing into the elections hurriedly must work towards shaping the environment for the same. The old Panches and Sarpanches must be taken into confidence as they can help in moulding the public opinion. They have specific grievances which must be immediately addressed to:-
- The release of pending honorarium of ex-Panches and Sarpanches from July 2011 to March 2013 (21 months). It is believed that funds are already available.
- SRO-43 for those panches and Sarpanches who have been victim of militancy during 2011-2016.
- Fixation of revised honorarium.
- Incorporation of 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments in J&K Panchayat Raj Act 1989.
The Displaced Kashmiri Pandits have been denied the right to vote at their present place of residence as was done in case of Parliamentary and state elections. This anomaly needs to be corrected before holding the elections.
Also, many wards in Municipalities have been reserved for SC candidates with almost nil or small SC population residing in these wards. It also needs to be rectified.
The government should not succumb to the pressure of Kashmir-centric parties as it will encourage them to promote the separatist agenda with more vigour. It is right time to marginalise them by creating a third front by exploiting the growing disenchantment for the existing parties as well as the dynastic rule.
All those who wish to join the democratic process to encourage grassroots level democracy in the State should be provided adequate protection during and after the elections particularly in the disturbed areas. The experience in this aspect in the past has not been good.
The government should give no assurance in any form related to Article 35A. The legal process should continue and follow its ordinary course. No amount of threatening, blackmailing or lobbying is going to influence the opinion of the learned justices. Had these parties been so serious about 35A, their leaders should have also resigned from the state assembly and parliament. NC happily participated in Kargil Council elections and is also exploring the possibility of forming the government there. Calling of an All Party Meet will serve no purpose because as in the past the Kashmir-centric parties would join hands and only demand postponing of the elections. They are scared to face the electorate. The hidden agenda behind the boycott is to strengthen the hands of the separatists and send a message internationally that Kashmir is so disturbed that it needs their intervention. The Kashmiri sympathisers abroad duly assisted by the ISI are already busy creating such a narrative.
Under no circumstances, the elections should be called off. These must be held by facing all odds. If needed slight revision in the already announced schedule by the government can be carried out.
(The writer is a Jammu-based security and strategic analyst)