Time not ripe for popular Government in J&K

Brig Anil Gupta
Though the state was placed under Governor’s Rule on 20 June 2018, the state assembly was kept under suspended animation as permitted by the J&K Constitution. The Assembly was finally dissolved on 21 November putting at rest all attempts by the unholy alliance of NC-PDP-Congress to form a Government to “safeguard the autonomous status of the State”. There was a mixed response to the decision of the Governor with the majority welcoming the decision. It was also an attempt by Kashmir-centric leaders to isolate Jammu &Ladakh and establish a Kashmir dominant government so that their political fortunes are safeguarded and pressure exerted on the Central Government to go soft on instituting measures which were perceived to be harming the interests of the Kashmiris. The fact is that the decision of the Government of India to go ahead with conduct of local bodies and panchayat elections despite the boycott call by both the valley-centric parties NC and PDP came as a rude shock to the leadership of both the parties. They had assumed that as in the past the Government would succumb to their pressure and they would manage to abandon the elections. Empowerment of a common man is against the basic ideology of both the dynastic parties. Other than that the fear of loss was also haunting the leadership of these parties since the people were utterly dissatisfied with both these parties.
The successful conduct of the elections dawned the reality on them and they realised that they may soon get marginalised in Kashmir politics. The Congress also did not perform as per the expectations of its leadership and was forced to accept the reality of growing challenge posed by BJP. The emergence of an alternative in the Kashmir Valley in form of third front also became a cause of concern for these two parties who were already facing internal dissent due to lack of inner party democracy.
The same parties which had earlier declared boycott of parliament and assembly elections as well till an assurance from the Central Government on non-interference with Article 35A, now began to demand dissolution of the assembly and holding of fresh elections. Their purported aim of coming together including the Congress to save “special status” of the state is a sham, while the true intent is to prevent BJP from firming in Kashmir Valley and become a viable contender for already limited political space in the Valley. “Autonomy” for valley-based leaders of all hues means unbridled use of state resources for the benefit of one region only. Feeling threatened by various actions being taken by the State Administration Council under the stewardship of newly appointed Governor, is another reason which has compelled them to join hands despite grave ideological differences.The alibi of safeguarding special status is only for gaining the support of the separatists and emotional exploitation of the Kashmiris.
Now that the Assembly has been dissolved, the political grapevine in the state is ripe with opinions regarding holding of assembly elections. The three options being discussed are; before Parliamentary elections, along with the Parliamentary elections and after the general elections. While the political class is batting for an early election, the non-political class is in favour of delayed elections. Those wanting early elections are quoting the Supreme Court ruling of holding elections within six months of dissolution. But the intelligentsia and general public is of the opinion that situation in J&K is peculiar necessitating a longer spell of President’s Rule, the precedence for which already exists. The state will be placed under President’s rule with effect from 20 December in accordance with Article 356 of the Constitution of India.
When the state was placed under Governor’s Rule in June this year, a number of issues ailing the state that necessitated imposing of Governor Rule despite the Assembly having mandate for another three year plus were flagged. These included rampant corruption, blatant regional discrimination, pro-separatist sentiments, soft approach towards anti-terror operations, worsened law and order and nepotism. A thorough analysis needs to be done to conclude if the desired aim of imposing the Governor’s rule has been achieved. The general opinion is that a beginning has been made by the Governor’s administration under the able guidance of the incumbent Governor Satya Pal Malik but it is just the beginning and a long course has to be charted before people’s confidence is regained to return to a popular Government. Governor while dissolving the assembly had also observed that in the present environment no single party or a combination can provide a stable Government. Nothing much has changed since then. The Governor had also expressed his concern about the environment needed for the security forces to conduct counter-terror operations.”The security scenario in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is fragile where there is a need to have a ‘stable and supportive’ environment for security forces which are engaged in extensive anti-militancy operations and are gradually gaining control over the security situation,” the governor’s office said. Will the Kashmir centric parties be supportive to the security forces’ operations, which they term as ‘muscular policy’ of the state?
A dispassionate review of the situation will deduce that the state of J&K is not yet ripe for a popular government. For that, the Election Commission of India will need to take a holistic view and support a delayed election to the state assembly, after some of the earlier flagged issues ailing the state are addressed with security being the paramount. The political class will disagree for obvious reasons but the need is to ignore political interests and promote national interest.
The arguments that tilt the balance for holding delayed elections are many and may vary with different perceptions. However, there are many which have universal acceptance. These can be summarised as follows:-
* The Security Forces will get adequate time to build a secure environment and take “Operation All Out” to a logical conclusion.
* The dividends of establishing ULBs and Panchayats will be much larger as the elected representatives would get adequate time to show case their performance and regain public confidence. The Panchayati Raj system needs time to stabilise without much political interference. Keeping in view, the known opposition to these institutions of the NC and PDP, they would definitely tamper with their smooth functioning and create hurdles for the same.
* Governor’s administration will get adequate time to carry out people-friendly acts and address the flagged issues, thereby setting a benchmark for good governance.
* An early popular government, particularly Kashmir-centric, is likely to repeal all the reforms announced by the governor denying their dividend to ordinary citizens.
* The new born bonhomie between NC, PDP and Congress may not be able to last for that long a period. This opportunistic alliance is not in the long term interest of the state. Late Mufti Mohd Sayeed had rejected the formation of such an alliance in 2014 as a disaster for state’s integrity.
* The requirement of a third front as an alternative to the dynastic parties is need of the hour. Delayed elections would provide adequate time for the emergence of the Third Front and its firming in.
* NIA will get adequate time to tighten the noose against hawala dealers as well as over ground sympathisers of militancy.
* Long pending Jammu specific projects like AIIMS, Ujh Barrage, Gondola, three tier parking, four-laningetc,Tawi River Front, Border tourism, which were victim of regional discrimination would get adequate time to complete/take off.
Notwithstanding the pressure from political class, the majority opinion is in favour of a delayed election to the state assembly. The chances of a post-poll alliance to keep BJP away from the government are more in case of an early election than otherwise. Lust for power and intra-party dissensions will not allow the idea of an unholy opportunistic alliance to last for very long.
(The author is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.)