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J&K polls would be no cakewalk for any party

The Ministry of Home Affairs has already started discussing the tentative election dates. It means the maiden Assembly polls in J&K after its transition into a Union Territory are on cards….reports Asian Lite News

Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have started reappearing on the scene as speculations are rife that Assembly elections are likely to be held in the Union Territory either in April or September.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah has chaired a series of meetings to seek feedback from the administration and the political representatives about the ground situation in J&K.

The Ministry of Home Affairs taking keen interest in reviving the democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir is an indication that Assembly elections are in the offing and could be announced soon.

During his last visit to Jammu and Kashmir in October 2022, Amit Shah had announced that elections in the Himalayan region will be held after the revision of electoral rolls is completed.

After Shah sounded the poll bugle, the entire official machinery swung into action to finalise the preparations for elections. As on date, the electoral rolls in J&K stand finalised and most of the arrangements have been put in place.

The Home Ministry gearing up for holding Assembly polls in J&K has led to the political parties sticking their necks out, as the politicians are sniffing a chance to make a comeback.

Political scenario changes

After August 5, 2019, when the Centre announced its decision to abrogate J&K’s special status and divided it into two Union Territories, the political scenario has changed completely.

Leaders of the traditional parties, i.e., National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, are aware of the fact that winning elections is not going to be a cakewalk anymore.

Politicians know it very well that they cannot “sell old wine in a new bottle” anymore as change in J&K’s status-quo has punctured the slogans like ‘autonomy’ and ‘self-rule’.

Leaders like NC President and former J&K Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, and the chief of People’s Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti, who has also served as J&K Chief Minister, do sometimes talk about getting back Article 370, but they are aware that it’s just a slogan they are raising to remain relevant, but aren’t getting any response from the common people.

The scrapping of the so-called special status of J&K has proven to be a blessing for the common residents, as the Union Territory has witnessed unprecedented development during the past three years.

The common man has endorsed the Centre’s decision and is happy with J&K’s complete merger with the Union of India. He is not interested in J&K getting back anything. Nor is he showing any inclination towards those leaders, who are mourning the demise of Article 370.

PAGD hits dead end

When the Centre abrogated Article 370 in 2019, nearly 40 mainstream leaders, including three former Chief Ministers, Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti, were placed under detention. After the mainstream leaders were released, they came together and formed the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) comprising NC, PDP and other smaller parties.

The PAGD headed by Farooq Abdullah had announced that it would fight for restoration of J&K’s special status and has no political ambitions. But as soon as the District Development Council (DDC) elections were announced at the fag end of 2020, the PAGD announced to contest the polls collectively.

The PAGD, a conglomerate of Kashmir-based mainstream parties, crumbled under its own weight soon after the DDC elections were held and the results came to fore.

The National Conference minced no words to claim that it was NC’s victory and not the PAGD’s. One by one, all the parties that were part of the PAGD said goodbye to the alliance, and as on date, the amalgam comprises NC, PDP and a few small parties only.

The PAGD leaders rarely come face to face and meet each other.

After the Assembly election-related activities commenced in J&K, NC, PDP and other constituents of the PAGD have announced that they would contest the polls on their own and there would be no pre-poll alliance.

Amit Shah set to fulfil his commitment

Amit Shah has always reiterated that the Centre is committed to revive the democratic process in the Union Territory and it seems that New Delhi has decided to conduct Assembly elections in J&K soon.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has already started discussing the tentative election dates. It means the maiden Assembly polls in J&K after its transition into a Union Territory are on cards.

Till 2014, when the last Assembly elections were held in Jammu and Kashmir, either National Conference or the People’s Democratic Party used to come to power. But after 2018, when the BJP pulled out from the PDP-led government, the political scenario in J&K has changed completely and no Kashmir-based party is in a position to dictate terms.

Also, Jammu and Kashmir is a Union Territory now and the politicians won’t get the sweeping powers which they enjoyed when J&K was a state. The Lieutenant Governor will be the final authority as he will continue to represent the Centre till the statehood is restored.

Omar, Mehbooba opt out

Two former Chief Ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, have dropped enough hints that they won’t contest the Assembly polls. It appears that they believe fighting elections in the Union Territory would undermine their status.

The pre-condition for restoration of J&K’s statehood is that the democratically-elected government should be able to maintain peace in the Himalayan region. It means that for the time being, Omar and Mehbooba would sit on the fence and watch the developments as spectators.

Another factor which helped the Kashmir-based parties to win Assembly polls after 1996 was the boycott factor, as the separatists and terrorists at the behest of Pakistan used to issue frantic “election boycott” calls.

Terrorists used to keep people away from the polling booths at the dint of the guns, which used to prove beneficial for the politicians of the local parties. They used win with small margins due to less participation of people in the election process. But this time around, record number of people are expected to exercise their right to vote.

Dr Farooq Abdullah addressing press conferences after all-party meeting in Srinagar.(photo: Umar Qadir)

Politicians in no position to sell illusions

Till 2019, political parties during election time used to talk about the importance of involvement of Pakistan and terrorist leaders in parleys. During the past three years, the leaders of these parties have turned silent.

Whenever polls used to come closer, the parties used to rake issues like whether J&K’s merger with the Union of India was temporary or permanent. They used to deliver fiery speeches to make people believe that once they win, they would resolve all the issues.

Elections in J&K after 1996 were never fought on issues like ‘bijli, sadak aur pani’.

The politicians used to talk about issues, like making the borders soft, turning J&K into a buffer state between India and Pakistan, etc. These issues didn’t fall in their domain, but they used to rake them up for political gains.

This time around, these leaders are not talking about any of these matters that are not within their reach. In fact, they are looking for the agendas which they could set to lure the voters.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led regime has ended all the debates surrounding J&K for once and all. The politicians have changed and so have their slogans and promises.

They can no more sell illusions to the common people and grab power. If they want to make it to the Civil Secretariat — the highest seat of power — in Jammu and Srinagar, they will have to prove their worth as they would get nothing on the platter.

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