The last few weeks in Kashmir have been thick with rumours and conspiracy theories due to a perception of heightened deployment of security forces in the valley, which has brought back memories of the events that preceded the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution in August 2019. There are now rumours that formal statehood will be granted only to Jammu region and the UT status of Kashmir will continue, or that a new administrative region will be carved out by merging south Kashmir districts with Jammu region. All these rumours have so far turned out to be exactly what they were – rumours.
This however does not mean a return to the status quo of political stagnation in Jammu & Kashmir. There are indeed more than murmurs of the restart of political activity in the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir, which have led to a whole new level of backdoor political shenanigans.
To begin with, the period after the abrogation of Article 370 has not exactly been one of political stagnation. The twin regions of Jammu & Kashmir valley both actually saw a mini-assembly elections in the form of DDC elections for which people turned out in large numbers even in militancy-affected south Kashmir. These elections were indirectly fought on party symbols. In this sense, the union territory has seen electoral political activity at par with state assembly elections that took place in West Bengal or the Panchayat elections that took place in Uttar Pradesh. The DDC elections were in essence a testing ground to examine several political maneuvers that are to decide the restart of political activity in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir.
The first and foremost thing that the DDC elections showed was that people of Jammu & Kashmir have not lost interest in electoral politics. Many political analysts and so-called “Kashmir specialists” had predicted that the people of Kashmir valley would no longer trust any future elections that were to be held under the Constitution of India after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. However, people of Jammu and Kashmir including those in Kashmir surprised everyone by participating in large numbers in DDC elections and thus proving all political analysts wrong. It is important to mention here that these DDC elections were not in any form a referendum or approval of the people of Jammu & Kashmir of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. These DDC elections were fought on local issues like that of water, electricity and roads. The elections however allowed the UT administration and the policy makers in Delhi to gauge the mood of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, who made it very clear that they wanted the resolution of their issues through peaceful and democratic means.
The DDC elections further gave insight to the policy makers into the political positioning of both the old political set-up as well as the new political set-up, especially in Kashmir valley. Even though elections were not officially fought on party symbols, the choice of candidates unofficially reflected party positions in the twin regions of Jammu and Kashmir. The DDC results made it very clear that the old political set-up continued to be favoured by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The PAGD, called the ‘Gupkar Alliance’, an agglomeration of many national and Kashmir-centric political parties, including the Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah-led J&K National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP, won over 100 seats, though mostly in Kashmir valley, whereas the BJP emerged as the single-largest political party by mostly winning from the Jammu region. The new “durbari party” as well as the emergence of so-called “grassroots leaders” as an alternate to the old political regime did not show expected results and it was clear that traditional political parties of Jammu and Kashmir, especially Kashmir-centric parties, continue to hold sway among the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
This has clearly led to a change in the approach of both the UT administration as well as policy makers in Delhi towards the Kashmir-centric parties. According to unconfirmed reports, the Central Government and the UT administration is mulling to invite J&K’s major political parties including the National conference and the PDP for discussions on the delimitation process, a step which is the precursor to the holding of fresh assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The only question that remains is whether the Gupkar Alliance will meet the central Government and the UT administration as a single unit or will hold talks individually. There are also reports that the restoration of the statehood of the Jammu and Kashmir may also be on the table for discussion. Or, the Central Government may postpone it and allow political parties to fight over it as an election issue, given the fact that the restoration of statehood is something which is not only desired by the people of Kashmir valley but the same has also been demanded by the Jammu unit of the BJP.
There are also speculations that the new Biden administration in the United States is urging the Central Government to restart the electoral process in Jammu and Kashmir as soon as possible. The Modi government is also believed to be interested in finishing the process of changing the political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir, which it began on August 5, 2019, when it abrogated Articles 370 and 35A, bifurcated the state, and demoted the status of J&K to a UT. It is believed that the central government wants to now complete the political process by conducting elections after delimitation and handing over power to the newly elected regime.
All in all, it is clear that there is a change in the air and the restart of the political process is on the cards in Jammu and Kashmir, which will augur well for the people of the UT, who have been battering economic devastation, political instability, and ill effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The new political set-up will kickstart the necessary legislative and development process in a state which has been run by officialdom for the past 2 years and that will bring a positive change in the lives of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.
The writer is State Secretary of People’s Democratic Front. He can be reached @javedbeigh across social media platforms. Views are personal.