Kashmir parties score a self-goal

It is unfortunate that Kashmir’s main parties, the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have announced that they will boycott the upcoming elections to the state’s urban local bodies and panchayats. It is elections to local bodies that provide a strong foundation to an electoral democracy and pave the way for devolution of power to the grassroots. By staying out of these elections, the NC and PDP are weakening the state’s grassroots democracy and denying people the opportunity to participate in representative institutions. Besides, they are undermining themselves and the roles they have played as mainstream parties in J&K’s politics. By calling for a boycott of elections, they are echoing Kashmir’s separatists, who chose confrontation over consensus and compromise, and boycott over ballot-box politics. How will these parties distinguish themselves from the separatist fringe if they start using the latter’s language and methods? They are in danger of relegating themselves to the margins if they stay away from the upcoming polls.

The NC and PDP have separately cited ongoing attempts to do away with Article 35A—it is being challenged in court—as the reason for their boycotting elections. Article 35A bars outsiders from owning immovable assets in J&K and is seen to be central to preserving the state’s demographic composition. Understandably, the issue is an emotional one in J&K and the NC and PDP cannot remain silent on it; hence their demand that the Narendra Modi government clarifies its position on the matter.

While the challenge to Article 35A is the stated reason for the NC and PDP boycotting the polls, it is possible that with their credibility among the Kashmiri people at an all-time low, NC and PDP politicians calculated that staying out of the electoral arena was a better option. Indeed, support for the PDP, even in its stronghold in South Kashmir, is poor. The handling of Kashmir’s stone-pelters and the large number of civilian casualties in the last two years has triggered an avalanche of public anger not just against the Indian state and the erstwhile PDP-BJP government, but with politicians across the board. This is a dangerous situation as people have lost faith in democracy, public institutions and the rule of law. This is a time for political parties at the Centre and the state to come together to strengthen democracy. The NC and PDP must withdraw their boycott of elections. As for the BJP, it cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the current crisis. It is playing a dangerous game by stirring sensitive issues like Article 35A to ignite and polarise society. The Modi government must avoid the temptation to use its Kashmir policy to appease its Hindutva vote-bank in the rest of the nation.

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Kashmir parties score a self-goal

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