No level playing field in J&K BDC polls

Anil Anand
The best way to win people’s confidence and emphatically substantiate the theory propounded by the governments from time-to-time about normalcy prevailing in the troubled states or zones is to hold free and fair elections. It is incumbent that a level playing field is assured by the government of the day so that all the political parties in the fray have an equal chance to convince the voters and win elections.
It is a fact that the ruling parties have a fetish for muzzling democracy and win each and every election. And the current BJP dispensation is no different and by its own admission winning each and every election using all methods in the game is the party’s goal.
When the Government declared its strong intention to hold Block Development Council ( BDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir to take democracy to the grassroots levels in the aftermath of partial abrogation of Article 370 giving special statues to the state, now divided into two Union Territories, it was hoped that the move would prove handy to restore people’s confidence in the system. But that was not to be.
Certain steps taken by both the Union Government and the state administration of the Governor have the potential of further shaking rather than restoring people’s confidence in the system. It is not only the ruling party, which of course is primarily responsible for process being overboard, but the main opposition parties have also played their role in making the BDC election look like a hogwash.
A recent and not too distant example of how to use electoral process as means of winning confidence and restoring confidence was during Atal Bihari Vajpayee rule when the state assembly elections were held in 2002. It is credited to be the most free and fair elections held in the state till then. The ruling party under Vajpayee also had the allurement of try and win the polls by all means but that ostensibly was not the priority with him. And the rest is history.
After the partial abrogation of Article 370 the BDC elections was an opportunity to be used by the powers that be to repeat 2002 experiment of providing a level playing field to ward off all allegations of not holding free and fair elections and to give these a true representative character. In order to create a proper and conducive atmosphere to conduct a free and fair election it is imperative that the opposition parties are given their due space and no such measure is taken that raises doubts about the poll process per se. In this case the opposition parties have been reduced to a ringside viewer which finally ended in their top leaders being either arrested or put under house arrest on serious charge of being a threat to peace and security. Even when the last date of filing nomination papers was over on October 9 the senior leaders of the ilk of National Conference chief, Dr Farooq Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party president, Mehbooba Mufti and a number of leaders of other political parties such as Congress and Peoples Conference were still under house arrest.
A final blow was dealt to the entire process when Congress, at the last moment, announced its intention to boycott the elections. Earlier, a similar announcement was made by the National Conference and PDP. Since no serious effort was made by the ruling dispensation at any stage to take the opposition parties on board and given the fact that Kashmir Valley is still an area of concern, it was expected that some efforts would be made not to give any excuse to the opposition parties to boycott the elections. However, the government and the ruling BJP seem to be having different plans.
The picture is wide and clear now. Following Congress’ decision to boycott elections the field is wide and open for the BJP. The only worthwhile opposition would now be provided by independent candidates many of whom are being fielded by the leaders of Congress, National Conference and PDP in order to safeguard their constituencies. Even if these independent candidates make some inroads the basic purpose of holding elections, as was in 2000, in such trying circumstances would be lost.
The National Conference and the PDP being the Kashmir centric political parties had their compulsion to boycott elections for two reasons- first and foremost their top leaders were not released from house arrest and secondly the prevailing public mood in the Valley after partial abrogation of Article 370. However, the Congress’ last minute decision to follow the same course is baffling. Being a national level party Congress had a bigger role to play in countering the ruling party. Under the circumstances it is immaterial whether they win or lose it is more significant that they should have participated in elections.
The entire BDC election process has been reduced to a sham with main opposition parties staying out of the process and more seriously in the absence of any efforts by the government to take them on board. Opening a dialogue with the leaders such as Dr Abdullah and Mehbooba followed by their release from the house arrest would have helped in generating confidence in the electoral process. Holding elections under such circumstances is fraught with danger of charges of rigging flying thick and high. In fact Congress used it as an excuse to announce boycott even before a single vote has been cast. The National Conference and PDP are also trying to raise this bogey.
What Prime Minister Narendra Modi needed was to revive the spirit of 2002 election and oversee the electoral process from a broader perspective. It would have automatically given him political leverage that the BJP could have effectively used in the assembly elections as and when held.