It's advantage BJP in J&K, it should hold polls now

BJP supporters wave the party flag as they extend their support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a public rally ahead of Lok Sabha elections, at Dumi village near Jammu in March 2019. PTI File Photo

With the BJP government at the Centre reluctant to hold Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, regional political parties in the state fear they may lose their relevance and the feeling of alienation among the people will rise in the absence of a popularly elected government.

After the BJP took everyone, including then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, by surprise on June 19 last year by pulling out of its alliance with Mehbooba’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), nobody had expected that the restive Himalayan state would remain under central rule for so long. When the PDP-BJP government fell, there was chaos in Kashmir, with stone-pelting, local recruitment into militancy and violence at their peaks.

Under Mehbooba, the government had to postpone the municipal and panchayat polls several times. The then state government warned the Centre time and again that there would be violence in the state if the panchayat or municipal polls were held. During a parliamentary by-poll held in April 2017 in Srinagar, at least nine civilians were killed when security forces opened fire on protesters.

The first success under the Governor’s rule was the holding of panchayat and municipal polls last year from October to December. But the regional parties – National Conference (NC) and PDP – had stayed away from these polls citing the challenge to Article 35A in the Supreme Court as the reason. While separatist groups had asked people to boycott the polls in line with their three-decade-old anti-election policy, the militant outfit Hizb-ul-Mujahideen had issued a strong warning to those participating in the polls, asking them to carry shrouds along with the election forms.

The municipal elections recorded a very low participation in the Kashmir Valley of 4.27% and the panchayat elections 41%, compared to over 75% in the previous edition. Immediately after the polls, the Governor’s administration started a crackdown not only against separatist elements but also against some mainstream politicians, too, who had been accused of corruption and nepotism over the decades. The Anti-Corruption Bureau and Crime Branch departments have started to tighten the noose against corrupt politicians, giving sleepless nights to the top brass of both the NC and the PDP.

The two parties protest that their leaders are being discredited among the masses, which will hugely benefit the BJP as and when Assembly elections are held. The leadership of either dynastic party has nothing new to sell to the electorate. They used to come to power by default because voters had no other choice. These political leaders did not fulfil public expectations. The rise of the BJP across the country now has sent shivers down their spines.

Previously, the PDP and NC were only selling dreams of separatism, adding fuel to the fire. Though mainstreaming of separatism is not a new thing in Kashmir, as the two parties have always milked the opportunities it threw up, lately the situation was going out of hand for the Centre.

The people in Kashmir have not only appreciated the Centre’s decision to hold politicians accountable but have openly expressed their happiness over the probe being conducted to unearth scams in financial institutions like the J&K Bank. Income-tax searches and an RBI-led audit on the J&K Bank and questioning of its top management, too, have been taken well in the Valley, as it is the main banking entity in the state, catering to everyone from the working class to the political elite and even separatists.

The questioning of some leaders of the PDP and NC in corruption cases by the state Crime Branch and Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), too, has been admired. People in the violence-hit state want to get rid of corruption, nepotism and favouritism, which has plagued it for decades. However, at the same time, they want the Centre to hold Assembly elections at the earliest. In the absence of a democratically elected government, the issues of the common people have been neglected. 

The ball is in the BJP government’s court now. If they decide to hold the Assembly elections, which are due since last year, by November, the saffron party will benefit hugely. However, if the elections are delayed beyond the year-end, it will be difficult to predict what its outcome will be. To keep democracy alive in the conflict-ridden state, holding Assembly polls at the earliest is a pre-requisite.

The buzz is that the BJP is delaying Assembly polls to complete its ‘hidden agenda’ in Kashmir, which includes revocation of Article 35A, which empowers the state legislature to define the state’s permanent residents, their special rights and privileges. Another agenda before the BJP is to enhance the number of assembly and parliamentary seats in Jammu region, where the saffron party has a huge vote bank.

It seems the larger plan of the BJP is to break the stranglehold of existing political hegemonies and replace them with new ones in Kashmir Valley, a process that it has been able to do in other states across the country. However, in a politically sensitive state like J&K, if any such experiment backfires, it could prove disastrous not only for the state but for the whole country. If Pakistan decides to escalate violence in Kashmir, the gains made in the last year or so could be wiped out.

The alleged plans of the BJP-led Centre to alter the demography of the only Muslim-dominated state in the country has struck fear in the hearts of Kashmiris. If separatists, with the tacit support of the regional parties, succeed in projecting this fear widely, the common people may rise in revolt, as they did in 2008 when then PDP-Congress coalition transferred 40 acres of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, which led to months-long agitation against the move. By the time the land transfer was revoked, the protests had claimed the lives of some 40 civilians.

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