The Election Commission’s (EC) decision to defer Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir and hold only Lok Sabha elections in the restive Himalayan state was on expected lines. The BJP was never in favour of holding the polls simultaneously. Notwithstanding the ‘public posturing’ by its leaders, the saffron party wanted to defer Assembly polls to accomplish the ‘nationalist agenda’ during the Governor’s regime. Opposition parties have alleged that the Centre was “using Raj Bhavan and trying to fiddle with the state’s special status.”
From the regional National Conference and PDP to Congress and CPI(M), all political parties were on board to hold Assembly elections together with the Lok Sabha polls. Even common people in the state had been demanding an elected government to address their problems. But Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora announced that Assembly polls were not being held in J&K due to “security reasons.” He said the major constraint was the availability of central forces, and also that it can’t disregard the recent developments – perhaps a reference to the post-Pulwama, post-Balakot situation.
It is perplexing how the security situation in J&K is good enough to hold Lok Sabha polls but not for Assembly elections which have been due for the last almost six months, ever since the J&K Governor dissolved the state Assembly in November. The Governor’s administration held Municipal and Panchayat polls from September to December 2018, despite threats from militants, boycott call from separatists and the PDP and NC staying away from the poll exercise. Even Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Governor Satya Pal Malik had on record said that things were in place for holding both Assembly and LS elections together in J&K.
The EC, though an independent body, does take into consideration the recommendations of the state governments and the home ministry before arriving at a decision, more so for J&K. It is no secret that the BJP wants to form the government in the only Muslim majority state in the country. This ‘mission’ dates back to 2014 when, riding on the ‘Modi wave’, the saffron party won 25 out of 87 seats in the Assembly elections. The BJP won all the seats in the Hindu-majority Jammu region while it could not open an account in Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley. However, the saffron party has a different strategy for Kashmir seats this time around, and it has groomed separatist-turned-mainstream leader Sajjad Lone as its proxy.
By deferring Assembly polls, the BJP has sent out a clear signal that if it is returned to power at the Centre after May 23, it will try hard to form its own government in J&K. To win seats in Kashmir Valley, it has enough people to bank on this time. From Sajjad Lone to business-tycoon-turned- politician Altaf Bukhari, BJP has a chance to win a good number of seats through its proxies.
The BJP leadership is upbeat and believes that the target of winning 44 Assembly seats is achievable. Their confidence comes from the fact that 37 Assembly segments are in Jammu province and the party believes that by roping in people like Lone and Bukhari in Kashmir, they can tough the magic figure. But for that to happen, they need their government at the Centre first.
However, while deferring the polls for its ‘own interests’, the central government is seen to have proved that the common man’s problems in the state are not on its agenda. Not letting people elect a government is antithetical to the very idea of democracy. Is it also a tactic of buying time to disempower people by pushing an agenda that suits the BJP, not the people of J&K?
The people of J&K wanted Assembly elections held as soon as possible because they have more stake in the establishment of an elected government in the state rather than in who represents them in Parliament. It is probably for the first time that people in Kashmir wanted Assembly elections to be held so that they have an elected government, but the EC has deprived them of that right. The state is presently under President’s rule after the six-month-long Governor’s rule ended on December 19.
However, as there is no chance of Assembly polls in the near future, it is imperative that Raj Bhavan focuses on improving the security environment in the state instead of tinkering with politics and making changes to state rules and laws. Governor Malik is a politician but he cannot be indulging in politics while being in Raj Bhavan.
‘Mission 44’ remains a goal for the BJP but to achieve this, it should not experiment with a sensitive state like J&K. People in the state are dejected by the PDP-BJP ‘misrule’ of over three years and any further misadventure in thrusting a government on them can have dangerous repercussions. The last 30 years have wrought tremendous change in the psyche of the people of Kashmir.
At a time when the people in the rest of the country are celebrating democracy, Kashmiris are still longing for peace. They witness unrest and turbulence on a daily basis. Kashmiris live in an environment in which they are uncertain they would return home safely once they left it. They are not sure about the safety of their children who might indulge in stone-pelting and get killed, maimed or blinded. The only answer to address all these issues is the restoration of democratic process in the state immediately, and the onus of it lies on the Centre. Irrespective of who gets to sit on the throne in Delhi on May 23, the focus of all parties and politicians in Delhi should be restoration of peace and democracy in the restive state.