J&K's Socio-political Reality Not Conducive For Any Election

Mudasir Kuloo | Jul 28, 2018 | 5 min read


Elections a herculean task in JK

By Mudassir Kuloo

Srinagar: Javaid Ahmad, a PDP party worker, refused to give the name of his native village. He fears going home as several people associated with political parties have been attacked and killed in recent years. “The attacks and threats have created panic among all mainstream party workers especially in south Kashmir,” Javaid said. A cluster of lower rung leaders of mainstream parties have been living in a government housing colony in Pulwama for the last several years. Javaid is unsure how any election can be held in the valley under the present circumstances. “You still remember what happened when bypoll of Srinagar Lok Sabha seat was conducted.”

That bypoll was held April 9, 2017. Voter turn-out was around seven percent and eight people were killed. Fearing a similar backlash, the authorities deferred the by-poll for the Anantnag parliamentary seat, which had been scheduled three-days later. The seat, which fell vacant following Mehbooba Mufti taking over as chief minister, remains vacant due to the poor law and order situation.

Despite these uncertain conditions, the state now is faced with a series of elections, which politicians, citizens and the state administration seem unprepared for. The governor has announced local body and panchayat elections for later this year. There is the Lok Sabha elections next year. And assembly elections will have to happen if the governor dissolves the assembly. Given that the last urban local bodies elections were held in 2005 after a gap of 23 years and panchayat polls were last held in 2011, after a gap of 37 years under the Omar Abdullah-led government, it is not clear how any large-scale elections can be held in the valley in the shadow of continuing social unrest and increase in militancy.

South Kashmir, in particular, is virtually out of bounds for legislators. There is no question of holding public rallies anywhere. A police official admitted that killings and threats had created a “panic” among all political workers in south Kashmir. “It is not possible to provide security to everyone,” he said.

None but BJP ready for polls

Since 2017, militants have visited the homes of several political activists warning them to “disassociate from their parties or face consequences”. Following which several political activists have either resigned or gone into hiding, as had happened in early 1990s when hundreds of political activists, mostly belonging to the National Conference, had announced ‘izhar-e-la taluqi’ (disassociating themselves from their parties) through paid advertisements in local newspapers. Several videos have gone viral on social networking sites in which political workers are seen tendering an apology and dissociating themselves from these parties.

Under such uncertain conditions, no major political party except the BJP seems ready for the polls. Former chief minister and senior National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said that situation is not "conducive" for elections. “The NC will contest elections whenever they are held,” he said. “But the reality is that the situation in Jammu may be conducive for polls but the situation in Kashmir is grave. It is unjustified to ask voters to come out to vote when people are getting killed. We will tell Governor to consider the security situation before announcing dates for elections (panchayat and urban local bodies),” Omar added.

Senior Congress leader G N Monga said, “Everybody is aware about the present situation. We are happy if government creates a conducive environment for the polls.”

PDP chief spokesperson Rafi Ahmad Mir is equally sceptical about holding elections under the present circumstances. “Elections can be held only when killings are stopped and a conducive environment is created,” Mir said.

During the 1996 elections, the centre had to bring in polling staff from other states after local employees refused to do the job.

The BJP, however, believes elections should be held “immediately.” “We are always ready for polls,” said BJP state spokesperson Altaf Thakur. “If polls were held in 1990, why can’t it be held now? We want panchayat and urban local bodies’ elections to be held immediately so that the state gets its share from central funding.”

'Parties should stay away from panchayats'

Rekha Chowdhary, a professor and political analyst, said that the situation today was different from that of the 1990s (assembly polls could not be held from 1990-1995 after then governor Jagmohan had dissolved the assembly in 1990). “Politics had completely collapsed in 1990s,” she said. Asked whether the situation was conducive for polls, she said: “It is very difficult to say which way the situation will go in the Valley.”

Joint Chief Electoral Officer, J&K, Raman Kumar Kesar, said that preparations for panchayat and urban local bodies elections were going on. “First panchayat polls will be held then urban local bodies elections,” he said.

While Director General of Police, J&K, S P Vaid assured that “we will make it sure adequate security arrangements are in place to ensure peaceful elections.”

The administration is exploring the possibility of the holding panchayat polls in September-Octobter. This could not be held as due in 2016 due to the five-month-long unrest in the Valley following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani on July 8 that year.

All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference Chairman Shafiq Ahmad Mir said that panchayat polls should not be linked with the Kashmir issue. “We are contesting panchayat polls to address local issues,” said Mir. “Political parties should not politicise panchayat polls.”

The 2011 panchayat polls saw a substantial turnout. But after the elections, some parties branded it as a referendum on the Kashmir issue. What followed was a string threats and attacks on various panch and sarpanch. The United Jihad Council threatened panchayat representatives in 2013, saying they were being used as a “tool by Indian agencies”. Many panchayat representatives had then resigned.

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