The Centre government should stay firm and go ahead with the polls if they wish to secure the future of parliamentary democracy in the State
Days after chanting patriotic slogans ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Jai Hind’ at a tribute ceremony organised in the memory of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee National Conference President and Member Parliament from Srinagar Lok Sabha seat Dr Farooq Abdullah has once again embarked on a dangerous journey, with separatists as co-passengers, by deciding to stay away from the civic polls.
The situation in the state, especially in Kashmir Valley, over the past three years has deteriorated. The previous PDP-BJP government failed to conduct bypolls to the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat
Dr Abdullah announced this decision after holding parleys with the members of the party’s core group which met here in Srinagar to take stock of the prevailing political situation in the state vis-a-vis security scenario on ground zero.
Interestingly, former state Chief Minister and party Vice President Omar Abdullah were not present in the meeting, possibly due to some preoccupation.
The announcement made by Dr Abdullah has already created a piquant situation for other mainstream players in Kashmir valley.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Chief Mehbooba Mufti in her first reaction expressed hope that newly appointed Governor Satya Pal Malik would convene an all-party meeting to discuss the matter.
“(When) in government I had called an all-party meeting to discuss ULB/Panchayat elections and the majority of the parties had opposed holding of elections at that time. We expected that the governor too would have called an all-party meet where everyone would put forward their viewpoint,” she said.
“We are still hopeful about that meet and would share our opinion with all the parties so that a consensus is built,” she added.
Commenting on the announcement made by National Conference chief State Congress President G A Mir said it was the responsibility of the governor-led administration to provide a secure atmosphere to the candidates and voters and ensure peaceful, free and fair polls.
“The situation in the state, especially in Kashmir Valley, over the past three years has deteriorated. The previous PDP-BJP government failed to conduct bypolls to the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat…,” he said.
Political pundits opined the decision taken by the National Conference has brought them on the same page with separatists and is largely seen as an attempt to scuttle the process of strengthening the democratic institutions at the grassroots level
Mir said the Congress had informed former governor N N Vohra and his successor Satya Pal Malik that the party would not sit behind if they chose to conduct the panchayat and municipal elections, but added that a decision would be taken after reviewing the ground situation.
Reacting to the NC’s stand, the All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference termed it “highly-objectionable” and asked the party not to politicise Panchayati Raj institutions for “petty vote bank politics”.
AJKPC state president Anil Sharma told reporters in Jammu that it was an attempt “to blackmail the Government of India and put pressure on the apex court”, hearing pleas challenging Article 35A.
U-turn by NC?
Soon after the state government had made an announcement to hold civic polls in the state Dr Farooq Abdullah had claimed boycotting polls won’t help anybody. “It won’t resolve Kashmir issue and neither India nor Pakistan can benefit from it. It is for the betterment and development of people of the state.”
Apparently referring to militants and separatists he had maintained, “there are some people who have called for a poll boycott. But I want to inform you that these people are making fortune out of people’s miseries. They want to keep the pot boiling as it suits their interests.”
“This situation has led to colossal losses, our economy is badly impacted. Look at our hotels they are empty, tourists are not coming to Kashmir, our famous tourism destination Gulmarg is empty, businesses are suffering losses,” he said adding that only those who are getting benefitted from this mess want people to boycott polls. “They won’t’ let these polls take place as they don’t want peace to prevail in the Valley.”
While urging people to participate in polls, Dr Farooq had told them that if the people of J&K want their future bright, they should participate in elections.
“This election is important for future if you want to make future of children bright then they should participate in it. If Kashmiri youth want to make their future we have to make them competent to compete with the youth of India,” he said adding that “how can your youth compete when our schools are closed.”
Four days later when core group of the National Conference assembled in Srinagar to take stock of the political situation in the state Dr Farooq Abdullah claimed the decision to hold the polls had been taken in a “hurried” manner without taking into consideration the prevailing situation “created by the powers that be, by unnecessarily fiddling with Article 35A”.
Reading out a statement after the meeting Dr Abdullah told reporters, “The core group unanimously decided that the National Conference will not participate in these elections unless and until the government of India and the state government clear their position in this regard and take effective steps for protection of Article 35-A in and outside the courts.”
Why is National Conference running away from civic polls?
On the surface the National Conference leadership may have decided to boycott the civic polls to put pressure on the government of India and the state government to clarify their position and take effective steps for protection of Article 35-A in and outside the courts but in reality the party leaders are shying away from throwing their hat in the poll arena for a variety of reasons.
Political pundits opined the decision taken by the National Conference has brought them on the same page with separatists and is largely seen as an attempt to scuttle the process of strengthening the democratic institutions at the grassroots level.
The BJP led govt at the centre would be held responsible by the posterity for pushing the state back to the days of 1990 when holding elections was considered a herculean task
As a responsible political party in the state, the National Conference should have avoided taking this call of boycotting the poll at this crucial juncture.
Secondly, in the wake of the current security situation in different parts of Kashmir valley National Conference leadership is struggling to find candidates who can win these elections for the party.
Thirdly, constant flip-flop and lack of sincerity on the part of National Conference leadership has already resulted in a constant decline in the vote share in support of the party.
The party has also failed to consolidate its voter base in Jammu region and if they had participated and lost the polls in Jammu region it would have impacted party’s performance in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in the state.
Political observers feel the central government should go ahead and call National Conference’s bluff by holding civic polls in the state. There is no need for the centre to succumb to the diktats of the National Conference and further derail the process of restoring normalcy in the state.
The political observers say the same National Conference leaders who are supporting boycott call of civic polls must be asked to explain why they participated in the recently held elections to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council?
Cancellation of polls may embolden separatists in Kashmir valley? Any decision by the government to stall the civic poll process is likely to embolden the separatist’s forces in the state.
After the poll boycott call issued by the separatists the decision taken by the National Conference leadership may have stunned the spin doctors in New Delhi.
Seasoned Kashmir watchers claimed, “the Centre government should stay firm and go ahead with the polls if they wish to secure the future of parliamentary democracy in the State. Otherwise, the BJP led govt at the centre would be held responsible by the posterity for pushing the state back to the days of 1990 when holding elections was considered a herculean task.
At the same time, the centre cannot penalise people living in Jammu and Ladakh for no fault of theirs and deprive them the fruits of power by empowering them at the grassroots level by going ahead and conducting the civic polls in the state.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.