Jammu and Kashmir: Elections as Panacea for Mainstreaming?
Three years after repealing Article 370 and 35 A, followed by security clampdown and COVID 19 curbs, the process for holding elections appears to be ripe in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
Hopes have arisen after finalization of the Delimitation Commission which has submitted the Report in May.
Will the public seen the polls as free and fair will determine if elections are a panacea for conflict resolution.
Integration of Jammu and Kashmir in the national mainstream was a key programme of Modi 2.0 – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which returned to power in May 2019.
Integration has multiple vectors, constitutional, economic, development, security and so on.
Constitutional integration was achieved through repealing of Article 370 and Article 35 (A) on August 05, 2019, a move that evoked mixed responses internally as well as externally
Within the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir this led to the political movement for restoration of special status known as the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) mainly based in the Kashmir Valley.
After very tight security controls in the Kashmir Valley for over a year which included detention of key political leaders, restraints over movement of people at large and blocking of access to the internet, a degree of normalcy has been restored three years.
Preparation for Elections
A Delimitation Commission headed by Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, (a retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India) was constituted based on the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 and Delimitation Act, 2002 to review constituencies in the UT.
The Commission has since submitted the final report to varied reactions from the two main components of the UT - Jammu as well as Kashmir.
As per the final Delimitation report out of the 90 Assembly Constituencies (AC) in the region, 43 will be part of Jammu region and 47 for Kashmir society groups, 9ACs have been reserved for STs, out of which, 6 are in Jammu region and 3 ACs in the Valley. There are five Parliamentary Constituencies in the region. Some parts of Jammu and Kashmir regions have been combined to form a single constituency despite geographical separation by the Pir Panjal Range.
As this was a precursor to holding of elections to the UT followed by restoration of the status to a full fledged state, the last major step to polls seems to have been cleared.
How Elections Have Shaped Mainstreaming in J & K
As a parliamentary democracy, elections are the primary medium through which people will register their preferences through voting-in their public representatives.
Eight elections have been held in then State of Jammu and Kashmir since 1972.
The 1987 State Assembly elections were seen to be rigged and are ascribed in general to the main cause of the rise of insurgency in the UT which has been raging from the past three decades plus and is presently in a stage of low level targeted terrorism.
External support from Pakistan to the slow burning militancy is a sine qua non given Kashmir being the main bone of contention.
Given this backdrop holding free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir possibly in this year – 2022 – after the Amarnath Yatra which runs up to August 11 can be envisaged. This will ensure adequacy of force for conduct of elections in an environment of threat of disruption through acts of terror.
2022 Elections Challenges and Potential
The 2022 UT elections have the potential for being controversial and to avoid the scope of rejection, these should not only be seen to be conducted fairly but accepted by the public at large – both in Jammu and Kashmir as flawless.
There are several undercurrents which may trigger resentment against the outcome of the polls.
These include removal of the special status granted by Article 370 and 35 A, redistribution of constituencies in the State between Jammu and Kashmir through the Delimitation Commission, attempts by Pakistan to delegitimize the process and perception of security support in favour of the ruling dispensation at the Centre.
Present trends indicate that no single party be it the national parties that is the Congress and the BJP or the state parties – the National Conference, People’s Democratic Party and others are likely to gain a majority.
The process of post elections formation of the government is expected to be muddy to say the least. How the elections are conducted and a legitimately elected government takes office in J & K thus may shape the process of mainstreaming the people in the national setting politically.
This will reduce support to separatist militancy that continues to have a base in the Kashmir Valley.
Post conclusion of the UT elections, the plan of the Central government is restoration of the status of J & K as a state. Irrespective of the party or parties that assume power in the UT, the process of upgradation to a State should be undertaken soonest.
This will restore the credibility and confidence of the public at large of government’s intention and may remove the quirks that can provide a fillip to dissent which can add to the low level violent acts by terrorist groups in the Valley at present.
Centralised administration by non elected representatives with heavy reliance of force has negative consequences if extended beyond a period, thus early elections and formation of an elected government in a free and fair manner needs national priority.