Holding polls in Jammu and Kashmir a tough call

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Centre has informed Parliament that it is committed to ‘democratic process’ in J&K and ready to hold elections. Home minister Rajnath Singh asserted that the Assembly was dissolved and President’s Rule imposed as there was no other option since no party staked claim to form an alternative government following the resignation of the Mahbooba Mufti government.

Rajnath Singh may not be telling the entire truth, although technically he is right. The PDP, National Conference and Congress had declared their intention to form a new government, but could not officially communicate that to the Governor due to inability to access any channel of communication such as fax or phone. Before they could make the next move, the Governor issued the order dissolving the House and imposing President’s Rule. The parties believe that the channels were deliberately blocked, but what is important is that the House stands dissolved.

Rajnath Singh assured Parliament that the Centre was taking all measures to improve conditions in the state and hold elections at the earliest. But with unrest persisting, it will indeed be a tough call. Although the major parties have expressed their willingness to join the poll process, the uncertainties have left politicians at the ground level unprepared for elections. The government managed to hold the panchayat elections towards the year-end, but these were marred by boycotts and violent incidents. The turnout of was higher than the previous polls, but it was less compared to normal. The previous panchayat elections were held in 2011 under the Omar Abdullah government, but that took place after a gap of 37 years, which shows the magnitude of the problem at the ground level.

Elections to higher bodies have been even more problematic. The Srinagar Lok Sabha by-election was held in April, 2017 amid large-scale violence, in which 8 people were killed and the voter turnout was a miserable 7 percent. Polling for the Anantnag parliamentary seat, scheduled three days later, had to be deferred indefinitely and the seat, which fell vacant after Mehbooba Mufti took over as chief minister, continues to remain unfilled.

Notwithstanding BJP’s eagerness to hold early polls, no other party seems to be in a mood to face an election now as they feel the situation in Kashmir is really grave. They argue that it is unjustified to ask voters to come out and vote when people are getting killed. According to reports, 2018 has been one of the bloodiest in a decade and over 400 people were killed due to violence since January, half them terrorists. But that leaves a sizeable number of civilian casualties as well. Abduction has emerged as a new form of terror in the valley and this makes local politicians more vulnerable than ever before. The conditions are really not conducive for elections now.