(S)elect with fear or stay with status quo?
AS the voices for holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir grow louder, the public perception seems to be against the political elites, thanks to the events of August 5, 2019 that have shattered the faith of people in rhetorical but emotive political narratives. The political elites have thus far failed in the reconstruct of their political philosophy which could resonate with the voters. The ground level politics is missing as the political class refuses to see through the new realities.
Notwithstanding the indications about the dawn of the election season since the term for local bodies and panchayats in the Union Territory is coming to an end in the months of September and October, the perception about politics and political elites has precipitously changed. Though there is an ever increasing urge among the politicians cutting across the political parties to have elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the rallying point for the entire political class is simplistic, and a superficial assessment based on their assumptions and presumptions. The only thing which could work for the political class here and there is the persisting political vacuum which has been there since 2018 when the Mehbooba Mufti led PDP-BJP government fell to the withdrawal of support from the BJP. The political class has lost relevance for the fact that the political philosophy of each constituent stands discredited and outdated. Devoid of context and nuance, the political rhetoric of most major political players misleads and misinterprets the real story. The situation is very complex if not fluid; the political narratives have become redundant post abrogation of Article 370 but the urge for the revival of democratic culture is unfathomable. It is this urge which the political elites try to exploit to their advantage. What is intriguing is that the political elites in Jammu and Kashmir are yet to acclimatise to the changing geo-political realities. They refuse to come out of shells. The political class, as a one whole entity in both regions of Jammu and Kashmir, faces mistrust of people. Yes, people don’t trust them anymore. Rather the political class owes an apology to the public for misleading political narratives which crumbled four years back when the Parliament annulled the unique constitutional arrangement the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed within the union of India for about 73 years. The political elites would mobilise the public opinion around the narrative of ‘grievances’, which essentially meant, complete restoration of the constitutional guarantees which were there under the provisional clauses of the Constitution. When the Parliament annulled the remnants of the ‘provisional’ and ‘temporary’ clauses on August 5, 2019, the political doctrine of the Kashmir-based political elites was buried under the debris of Article 370. This unprecedented development led to the complete disillusionment of people with the political elites. When the political elites were jailed under preventive measures, none other than the former chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said, on record, that the people were happy and enjoyed their incarceration.
However, the political elite could not hold this opinion for too long and soon indulged in the same old political adventurism. As against the popular saying ‘public memory is too short’, people, however, refuse to forget about the misleading and consequential rhetoric of the political elites. As hinted above, one single factor which goes to the advantage of the political class is the people’s urge for the revival and restoration of the democratic culture. Politicians of the old race are conscious that people don’t have many options. New Delhi and its local representatives could not create a congenial atmosphere for the emergence of a new breed of political leaders for two reasons. The local bodies and Panchayats, including BDCs and DDCs, could not throw people of repute and integrity. And secondly, the ever-powerful Jammu and Kashmir bureaucracy did everything possible not to empower the PRIs. People are disenchanted with the kind of representation in PRIs. Even at the level of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, there is so much dirt and filth and the corporators, not excluding the Mayor, have reduced the institution to a royal rumble ring where everyone is free to stoop as low as he or she possibly can.
At the same time, the boycott politics has lost relevance. The thought processes have witnessed a dramatic change. People are as enthused about participation in electoral politics as in any other part of the country, and even more. The reason again being – under-representation, mis-representation, corruption and of course the financial independence of the PRI institutions.
The demand for holding elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly is legitimate and cannot be brushed aside for too long. In a democracy, people have the right to choose their own government. Of course, people want elections but they have apprehensions and fears too. The electorate, as of now, face the dilemma.
There is hardly any political party which does not face credibility crisis. Without going into the debate of whether the August 5, 2019 events were in consonance with the constitutional spirit of the country or not, people are disillusioned with the political actors. Come elections, anyone could take advantage of the persisting vacuum. But honestly people have no love lost for any political party or leader whosoever. In their heart of hearts, people wish not to install these old horses on themselves but what is the choice? That is precisely why a section of well-meaning people aspire the current non-political arrangement to continue for a while.
This kind of undercurrent has yet another dimension. In a union territory, the elected government has very limited powers and the real authority rests with the central government. Restoration of statehood alone could invigorate enthusiasm among the politicians which in turn could lure people. However, that seems far from the reality, at least for now.
Jammu and Kashmir has just completed five years without an elected government. On August 5, 2019, the Centre revoked Article 370, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated the state into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The PDP president Mehbooba Mufti resigned from the post of the Chief Minister on June 19, 2018 after alliance partner BJP withdrew support to her coalition government.
The events which have unfolded in the last four years have brought to the fore one stark reality -that the conflict of Kashmir is essentially about the conflict of interest between the political elites of Srinagar and New Delhi. While not undermining the external dimensions of the conflict, particularly in terms of sponsored terrorism, the fact remains that the conflict sustains because of the conflict of interest between legitimate stakeholders. The ruling BJP’s ‘New Kashmir’ slogan seeks to establish a new political order which has essentially meant to establish new political parties and leadership. However, as already hinted at, New Delhi could not do much on this account. There is mushrooming of the political parties in Kashmir region but the actors are the same. On the other hand, the traditional political elite is fighting the new formations tooth and nail by trying to discredit them. Let’s wait and watch how the events unfold.