The next elections will be significant as the BJP-led government has made several constitutional changes in the region.
Auqib Javeed | TwoCircles
SRINAGAR (JAMMU AND KASHMIR) — Following elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the talk of assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir is back into focus.
The last assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir were held in 2014. In 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government at the centre revoked the special status of the region, which granted limited autonomy to the erstwhile state and divided it into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The state has been ruled by a centrally appointed Lieutenant Governor.
Political activities abuzz
On November 27, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), led by former Chief Minister Mehboob Mufti held a massive youth convention in Srinagar where she slammed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government for its “anti-Kashmir policies”.
The convention was attended by youth PDP leader Waheed Parra who appealed to Kashmiri youth to choose democratic means over violence to achieve their goals.
Soon afterwards, the first major rally was held by BJP in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district on October 5 which was addressed by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. In his address, Shah ruled out holding talks with Pakistan and vowed to wipe out militancy from Jammu and Kashmir.
The second biggest rally was held by the newly created party by former minister Syed Altaf Bukhari in Srinagar. Bukhari assured people that he will bring back the incarcerated youth from the different jails in India.
Similarly, in the Jammu region, former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad launched a new political party, named Democratic Azad Party (DAP). Azad conducted several rallies in the Jammu region.
A Hindu chief minister in a Muslim-majority state?
With the revocation of special status on August 5, 2019, the BJP-led government at the Center has changed the political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir and made significant inroads in the valley. The BJP leadership has made it clear that J&K will have a Hindu chief minister.
On November 25, the joint chief electoral officer of J&K released the final electoral roll of the region with the highest-ever addition of more than 7.72 lakh voters.
The move is seen as an attempt by the BJP to give voting rights to non-locals to gain political benefit. The regional political parties have strongly opposed the move.
Pertinently, in May 2022, the Delimitation Commission formed by the Central Government recommended seven additional constituencies — six for Jammu and one for Kashmir — taking the total number of seats in the UT to 90 from 83 earlier.
The move was opposed by the Kashmir-based political parties who argued that it was being deliberately done to favour BJP in assembly elections.
Why are elections significant?
Talking to TwoCircles.net, former state congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir said that the J&K being a “sensitive state” can’t be ruled by the Babus for a long time.
“We have borders with Pakistan and China, you can’t afford to run the region with local representations. The elections in J&K are more important than Gujarat and other states,” Mir added.
The assembly elections are likely to be held in 2023, even though there is no official confirmation from the election commission of India. The last assembly elections took place in 2014 which was dissolved in June 2018 after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew support from its coalition partner—The people’s Democratic Party.
The upcoming elections are significant as the BJP-led government made several constitutional changes in the region. Both Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdulla had made it clear that they aren’t going to contest elections until statehood is restored. Although both their parties have termed the upcoming elections important and have vowed to keep the BJP at bay.
In an interview with the Scroll.in, former chief minister Omar Abdullah said that if the regional parties didn’t contest elections and proved their majority in the assembly, BJP will bring their own resolution and put a rubber stamp on what happened on August 5.
“If parties like ours, who are opposed to what they did on August 5, 2019, are not represented in the assembly, the BJP will have a majority. They will overrule the restoration of autonomy resolution [passed by the National Conference government in 1999]. They will bring their own resolution and put a rubber stamp on what happened on August 5,” Abdullah said.
Talking to TwoCircles.net, National Conference, General Secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar said elections are important as “there is no democracy in the region.”
“People aren’t being heard and their problems are not being addressed, everyone wants that the elections should happen,” said Sagar.
He further added the people of Kashmir have realized the importance of elections from the last three years of bureaucratic rule.
Professor Noor Ahmad Baba, a political scientist from Kashmir told TwoCircles.net that there is a political vacuum in J&K which occurred due to the absence of a democratic process.
“Political vacuum can be filled only when people are able to participate in elections and choose their representative with their consent,” Baba said.
He said that the political buzz in Kashmir is signalling that there might be elections next year.
People eager to see local government
At PDP’s rally in Srinagar, thousands of people from different parts of Kashmir participated and patiently listened to their leaders.
Mohammad Shaban, 52, who had travelled from South Kashmir’s Pulwama to Srinagar told TwoCircles.net that they want to see their “own chief minister ” in J&K and are excited to participate in the elections.
“The centres’ rule should end. The elections should happen and we should be allowed to choose our representative,” Shaban said.
He believes that the “local chief minister” is always accessible to the people and ready to resolve their issues on priority.
“Since they have to contest the elections, they have to face people, thus they take our demands seriously and try to resolve them,” Shaban added.
Nazir Ahmad, another participant from North Kashmir’s Baramulla, told TwoCircles.net that people are desperate to see an elected government and that New Delhi shouldn’t waste more time holding it.
“I think more people will participate in the assembly elections this time since people badly need an elected government,” Ahmad said.
Senior politician and influential Shia leader Imran Raza Ansari argues that the Central government thinks that it is good for J&K to be a UT as the security situation has improved.
“Why don’t they make these states as UTs? Why only J&K?” Ansari, who is General Secretary People’s Conference said.
He said the bureaucratic rule may be good for the government to achieve some goals but it is a huge setback for the people as their elected representatives are nowhere to be seen.
PDP’s additional spokesperson Najmu Saqib argues that the “enforced” political vacuum that was imposed in J&K is detrimental to the institution of democracy.
“There is a certain level of suffocation in the society because of the bureaucratic rule and un-representation of the people. I think people are looking for political activities,” Saqib told TwoCircles.net.
He said people are coming out on their own and participating in political rallies which clearly says that they want their elected representatives.
Altaf Thakur, spokesperson of Jammu and Kashmir BJP said they are ready to hold elections and the party always believes in the democratic process.
“The election commission of India will take a call on the elections soon,” Thakur added.
Auqib Javeed is a journalist based in Kashmir. He tweets at @AuqibJaveed