Mystery shrouds J&K assembly polls

Anil Anand
There is a mystery shrouding the holding of maiden assembly election to the newly carved out Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir. For the last over four years, after the August 5, 2019 constitutional changes resulting in demotion and bifurcation of the state into two UTs of J and K and Ladakh, the wait for assembly elections has been never ending.
A new element has been added to this mystery by the decision of the Supreme Court to defer hearing on a plea seeking directions to the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the government for holding early assembly elections. A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices P S Narasimha and Manoj Mishra surprisingly postponed the hearing on the reason that since petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370, pending since long, have been listed now for hearing, the one regarding assembly poll could wait till the outcome of these petitions.
The plea of the counsel appearing for the petitions that this was a different case as the residents have been disenfranchised. So, a notice should be issued in the matter, did not cut ice with the honourable judges.
Has this development given a further leeway to the Centre and the ruling BJP and justified non-holding of assembly elections? Certainly, it could provide a handle to the ruling dispensation strategists to offer an alibi, to sidetrack the issue, in the name of the matter being sub-judice. But that is not going to silence the chorus for assembly elections currently being raised by the people as well the opposition parties.
Why so? While on one hand the Centre (read ruling BJP) ruling the UT indirectly through the Lt Governor Manoj Sinha has been claiming ushering the UT in an unprecedented era of development made possible by nearly eliminating militancy and on the other no hurry in having an elected assembly in place. The people perhaps are suffering due to non-addressal of their grievances by the top-heavy bureaucratic administration where there is no space for elected representatives. So, their demand to have their elected representatives so as to have an immediate listening post as reaching Raj Bhawan or the bureaucrats is if not impossible but very difficult.
Naturally, the opposition parties’ yearning to contest and occupy a space in the democratic polity is also not going to die down with the Apex Court’s deferring the poll-related petition.
“Officer sarkar” (government run by bureaucrats) cannot run for six months. We have been waiting for assembly elections for the last six years since the assembly was dissolved in 2018,” was how former chief minister, once a veteran Congress leader and now chairman of the Democratic Progressive Azad Party, echoed the sentiment. This is what the entire spectrum of opposition parties-National Conference led by Dr Farooq Abdullah, Congress, Peoples Democratic Party of Mehbooba Mufti, and the petitioner Panthers Party, have been articulating all through.
The situation has further turned curious with the LG’s administration, obviously with the Centre’s approval and backing, preparing to conduct second successive election to panchayats and municipal councils across the UT as the term of existing bodies is ending in September. And so goes the preparation for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections amidst speculations that it could be preponed.
This became clear when recently J and K’s chief electoral officer, P K Pole had announced a roadmap for the election calendar to be followed during the “current financial year”. He specified the elections for urban local bodies, panchayats and Lok Sabha will be held during the period. “The assembly elections are also due in this financial year,” he said without further elaborating on it. This led to the opposition parties and sections of people concluding that the assembly elections would not be held anytime soon. This belief in some ways stood strengthened by the fate of the poll related petitions since conclusion of proceedings in petitions related to Article 370 is going to be a long-drawn process given the sensitive nature of the issue.
Even the Lt Governor left no one in doubt by stating that the panchayat and local bodies elections would be held in time in the UT. “We all want the panchayat elections should be held on time as five years will be completed soon and it will boost economic activities,” he recently said while maintaining a studied silence on Assembly polls.
Does this mean that the ruling BJP is shying away from facing Assembly? Is it on account of the failure of the UT BJP leadership to deliver particularly when the party backed administration was in place? Can a conclusion be drawn that neither the BJP-run Union Government nor the LG’s administration are receptive to their arm in the UT?
The National Conference leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah’s claim that the BJP does not want assembly elections as it will “lose the polls”, which I do not see being held in near future, has some merit. Or else what could be the reason behind the BJP’s dithering over assembly polls.
The questions are bound to be raised as to what prevents the holding of assembly elections in the face of the Centre and the LG administration’s claim of improved security situation and near erasing of militancy when Civic bodies and Lok Sabha-2019 elections were conducted peacefully. Moreover, questions are also being asked if the G20-related events could be held in Kashmir with fanfare and without any hindrance, for which the government and the ruling BJP claimed credit, why not hold assembly polls?
There is no convincing explanation coming forward, but for the BJP’s fear of losing, for the postponement of assembly polls. Confusing signals have been emanating from the ruling party circles.
The Union Government and its representatives were going whole hog to highlight the achievements of the Narendra Modi Government during the last nine years. The Central Minister took turn to visit J and K in this connection which seemed to be focused more on Lok Sabha elections than the assembly ones, since the focus was the Union Government’s achievements.