I assured the people of Jammu & Kashmir that we wish to resolve all issues – both domestic and external – through talks. I stressed that the gun can solve no problem; brotherhood can. Issues can be resolved if we move forward guided by the three principles of Insaniyat (Humanism), Jamhooriyat (Democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s age-old legacy of Hindu-Muslim amity) ” – Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Statement by Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lok Sabha on his two day visit to Jammu & Kashmir, April 22, 2003
After removing the barriers of Article 370 and 35A, the people of Jammu-Kashmir had their first experience with grassroot democracy. There are various interpretations of the results, and every political group can have something to tell to their core constituency. Still, there is a consistent message of these District Development Council Elections, followed by the panchayat and block level polls.
Pakistan and the beneficiaries of the selective narrative on Jammu-Kashmir always tried to sing the tune of atrocities and military excesses at the international level. Right from the United Nations, no platform remained unutilised by these forces to demean the democratic culture of Bharat, especially after Article 370 was made ineffective in August 2019. This election is a message from Bharat that it can handle all its problems through democratic means and no rogue state can weaken that resolve. A free and fair election is the hallmark of democracy. Even the Union Government's critics would not deny that these DDC elections were the most transparent exercise. The militants were not allowed to disturb this historic exercise was another significant achievement.
Now we can say with conviction that we have taken the Constitution in its entirety to every corner of Bharat, and this is most certainly an extremely positive message at the national level. There can be a difference of opinion on various issues, but our Constitution provides a solution to every fathomable problem. Hitherto discriminated citizens like West-Pak Refugees, Valmikis, Gorkhas etc. for the first time got the right to vote, proving beyond doubt that the path of development and participatory governance is the best way to address issues in a democracy.
Pakistan sponsored militants have become completely irrelevant in Jammu-Kashmir. The soft-separatist parties with dynastic tendencies first took a stand of not participating in electoral politics unless the so-called ‘special status’ of Jammu-Kashmir is restored. The success of Panchayat and Municipal elections forced them not only to contest but forge an opportunistic alliance called Gupkar. Their participation in the elections symbolizes the acceptance of the changed reality of a J & K free from the clutches of 370. The nationalist voices first time got their space, and they together defeated the fake narrative of 'no person will pick the tri-colour if Article 370 is removed'. The voting percentage in the freezing cold climate amidst Covid pandemic was a tight slap on the face of naysayers. This DDC election witnessed around 50 independent candidates emerging victorious. The message is loud and clear – the traditional self-centred, corrupt and dynastic politics will no longer work; a new breed of leadership will emerge that will chalk out the future of Jammu-Kashmir.
The DDC election is just a stepping stone to the more extensive process of democratisation from below. The subsequent delimitation of constituencies for the assembly will be another critical step as Jammu-Kashmir has not seen the revision of seats since 1956 despite the changing demography. Bridging the development gap between Jammu division and Kashmir division is another challenge.
Bharatiya Janata Party should be congratulated not just for emerging as the single largest party in the elections but for realising the dream of its founder President Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee of One Nation –One Constitution. It has also taken forward the policy initiatives started by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The successful conduct of DDC polls should be seen as a befitting tribute to these two towering nationalist leaders.