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Why Delhi’s Kashmir options are limited ahead of the Lok Sabha elections

Why Delhi’s Kashmir options are limited ahead of the Lok Sabha elections

By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
New Update


Jammu and Kashmir had the dubious distinction of the Governor’s and the President’s rule as many as eight times from 1977 to 2018 when it was a State. Currently, it is under an indefinite spell of the President’s rule—since it became Union Territory (UT) on 31 October 2019.

According to the Constitution, elections for the Assembly / Parliament have to be conducted within six months of the dissolution, but the Centre is not legally or constitutionally bound to install a popular government within a particular timeframe. Because of this, Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a long spell of the Governor’s / President’s rule for six years and nine months from 19 January, 1990 to 9 October, 1996.

The conditions—insurgency, violence, terrorism—which prevailed in the 1990s, are still continuing though with different dimensions.

This is why political analysts and constitutional experts are not taking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s and the Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s commitment to the UT’s first Assembly elections seriously. Even in those declarations, the Central leaders have not prescribed a timeframe. “Immediately after the delimitation” is invariably their refrain.

And, when is the delimitation going to be completed?

The Delimitation Commission headed by Justice (retired) Ranjana Prakash Desai was created with an initial life of one year in March 2020. At the expiration of that term, it got an extension of one year in March 2021. Of late, it has been granted another extension of two months—an indication that the process would be completed by or before 6 May, 2022.

Desai’s Commission is expected to stop entertaining observations from its five associate members—3 Lok Sabha members of Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and 2 Lok Sabha members of the BJP—before 4 March 2022. Thereafter, the commission’s draft would remain open to general public opinion for 42 days. If all goes well, the delimitation of 5 Lok Sabha and 90 Assembly constituencies will be completed within the current deadline of 6 May, 2022. PM’s and HM’s commitments would be facing the first test in the forthcoming summer in Kashmir.

According to a senior BJP leader, who is not inclined to be identified, the Centre is determined to hold the UT’s maiden Assembly elections in November-December 2022. This will be wintertime in Kashmir, but Assembly and Lok Sabha elections have been held in Jammu and Kashmir at least three times in the past around this period.

Security and law and order have been the biggest factors in all assessments ahead of the democratic exercises in J&K since 1990. As of now, both are highly reassuring. The total number of militants, which had phenomenally spiralled up and grown to menacing proportions in the coalition regime of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the BJP in 2015-18, has fallen to the lowest of the last seven years. All the security, intelligence and Police agencies put it at 80-100.

By the BJP’s and the Centre’s own admission, there has been no major clash between the people and the security forces after J&K’s reorganisation and withdrawal of the semi-autonomous status on 5 August 2019. The stone-pelting attacks and violent demonstrations, funeral processions and gun salutes to the fallen militants have become history in the last 30 months. The separatist politicians and other organs of their intellectual ecosystem have been bludgeoned to oblivion. The regular and the social media have been effectively neutralised.

But, is that enough to see the UT’s first Assembly elections in place?

“Not morally. But yes, legally, constitutionally and technically there’s no hitch,” senior advocate Mohammad Ishaq Qadri, who functioned as J&K’s Advocate General in Omar Abdullah’s NC government, asserted. He clarified to The Probe that the Government of India could hold the Assembly elections at the time of her choice. Even as several NC and PDP stalwarts maintain that the changes affected after 5 August 2019 are subject to the endorsement and ratification of the UT’s first Assembly, Qadri clarified that it was a “completely wrong perception created by the politicians who have little knowledge of the law and the constitution”.

“The Centre has made and sponsored a slew of changes right from the day of the conversion of the nomenclature from Prime Minister to Chief Minister in 1965. Thereafter, the Constituent Assembly of the State was replaced by ‘State Assembly’. Those amendments have not been challenged or settled in our parties’ favour. Legally and technically, I don’t find any lacunae in the changes made in August 2019 and thereafter. These all amendments, laws and rules have been made by competent authorities,” Qadri clarified.

Qadri’s view is invariably echoed by Mohammad Ashraf Mir who functioned as J&K’s Law Secretary in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti’s government. Both maintained that New Delhi’s perceptible compulsion of having the transformation endorsed by the UT’s legislature was “only to address an international ramification”.

“Since Pakistan has created an impression across the world that the changes in J&K have been made unilaterally and illegally and without the consent of the people of the State, it is likely that New Delhi may generate and market the desired consent. Otherwise, there is no such requirement,” Qadri, who has a long association with the NC, said. Mir endorsed verbatim. Qadri nevertheless opined that High Court Bar Association’s petition was “better in merit” as it was focussed simply on the accession, the promises made by India and the Delhi agreement of 1952. The NC’s and the HCBA’s petitions against the withdrawal of J&K’s semi-autonomous status are pending with the Supreme Court.

But irrespective of their SC petition’s strength, the Kashmir-based anti-BJP parties seem to retain the key to the resolutions to be passed in the UT’s Assembly. By the indications available hitherto, there appears to be a total polarisation on regional and religious lines in the UT, which has 68 per cent Muslim population. Notwithstanding the discomfiture within and perceptible disorientation among Jammu’s business and intellectual circles, the BJP sounds confident of a sweep in the Dogra mainland.

Exactly the reverse appears to be in place in Kashmir. “It will be a repetition of the 1977 Assembly elections when Sheikh (Mohammad Abdullah) Sahab swept 38 of the 42 seats in Kashmir plus 8-9 in Jammu. Despite all social engineering in defections and delimitation, BJP won’t get a single seat in the valley. Its local allies may get 7-8 seats, but that’s not enough to form the government. Next government will be unambiguously that of the NC, possibly with PDP and Congress,” said a senior NC leader.

In the UT Assembly, 47 seats are proposed to be from Kashmir and 43 from Jammu. Muslims have a significant presence or dominance in Jammu’s 14-17 segments.

Independent analysts put both BJP and NC at around 30 seats each, saying that much would depend on the seats of their allies. In the House of 90 seats, the minimum requirement for forming the government is 46.

But there’s a lot of uncertainty. The whole scenario will change if the BJP succeeds in engineering defections in the NC. As of now, only three leaders—DS Rana, SS Salathia and Mushtaq Bukhari, all from Jammu—have deserted the NC, which seems to be monolithic. But nobody knows how far Farooq Abdullah would keep his flock together.

The “white paper” of 35 pages, titled ‘Betrayal’, which the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) issued on Saturday, contains hardly anything different from the NC’s averments in its petition. It calls for restoration of J&K’s semi-autonomous status while building the case on the autonomy granted out of the Delhi agreement.

Contrarily, the BJP’s and the Centre’s contention is loud and clear. They view the semi-autonomous status as one-fourth of Azaadi and the autonomy as one-half of Azaadi. “And the world knows that the Azaadi is nothing but Pakistan’s euphemistic pedestal for Kashmir’s annexation,” said a senior BJP leader. “Nobody will listen to the Kashmir-based parties until they contest and condemn Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and stop peddling Pakistan’s narrative of negotiations with the separatists, terrorists and Pakistan”.

Former Chief Ministers, NC’s Omar Abdullah and PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti have, of late, dimmed their trademark virulence against the Centre and the BJP. But a definite note of reconciliation is not in sight. They know that the valley and Jammu’s Chenab and Pir Panjal regions are not with the BJP even after attempts to capitalise on the Pahari sentiment. On the other hand, the BJP knows the cost of losing the J&K elections ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP’s options in the current circumstances continue to be limited. One thing is clear to all and sundry that they may not rig the elections like the Congress.


Ahmed Ali Fayyaz is an independent journalist based out of Jammu & Kashmir. With 27 years of experience, Fayyaz is a policy analyst and a political commentator. He has extensively reported on conflict - after the 1990 Kashmir conflict - for the national and international media.