NC, PDP's ultimatum

Kashmir Times. Dated: 9/12/2018 12:11:13 PM

To hold panchayat polls without an all-party consensus would further democracy to a sham in J&K

The decision to boycott the forthcoming panchayat and local bodies polls by two major regional parties of the state, National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, makes it imperative for the government to reconsider its decision to go ahead with the polls. Otherwise, it will reduce the democratic process of election of representatives at the grass-roots level to a mere sham. The PDP on Monday followed the steps of National Conference in announcing to boycott the polls on grounds of suspicions generated due to the row over Article 35A. The elections to municipal bodies are scheduled to be conducted in four phases between October 1 and October 5, next, whereas elections to panchayats will be conducted in eight phases between November 8 and December 4, 2018. In many ways the elections were significant because they have not been held for almost a decade and they signaled revival of political activity after party politics fell into lull after the fall of the PDP-BJP coalition government in June last and the imposition of governor's rule. However, this perception skims only the surface of the political climate in Jammu and Kashmir. It is misleading without taking into account the huge impact of Centre's bid to link panchayat and local bodies elections with controversy over Article 35A and Article 370 on the regional ground politics. The recent developments after the appointment of a new governor, who is a rare political appointee, arouses local suspicions of packaging a sinister plot to trouble the muddied waters of Jammu and Kashmir in the garb of a political and democratic process. The Supreme Court which was hearing a bunch of petitions on the Constitutional validity of Article 35A, has deferred the hearing to January next year after the state government requested the apex court to defer the hearing as it may create a law and order problem at a time when security personnel are required in large numbers to ensure a peaceful election. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case after the local body elections are over.
Elections are a much needed democratic process for stability and for greater participation of people through a process of electing representatives. However, using elections as stealthy measure to weaken the already diluted levels of democratic norms in the state reduces such elections to a sham. The BJP, which is in power at the Centre, has sought to pin the blame for stalling a democratic process on the two regional parties and called their reservation as a 'drama' but the more authentic question is related to the credibility of an electoral exercise that is being used as a political ploy. The local bodies polls indeed, as BJP says, is being politicized. But the vital question is who is politicising these elections. The contention of state government under the governor, who is virtually a rubber stamp of the Centre, which links the row over Article 35A to panchayat elections reveals two things - one the tearing hurry of the BJP to test the electoral waters of the troubled state for parliamentary and assembly polls; second that other than ensuring peace and calm for holding the panchayat elections, the Centre is neither interested in long term peace in the state nor in the percolation of democracy down to the grassroots level. While elections alone are not the only measure of democracy, it may be recalled that it was the state government of which BJP was a part that kept the panchayat elections in abeyance for more than three years during its tenure. Even after all the parties reached the consensus on holding panchayat polls in June 2015, there was no movement forward because primarily BJP kept stalling the move on one pretext or the other including that of preceding the panchayat polls with delimitation of constituencies. Now that the same party is in a tearing hurry to go ahead with the polls without the same having been done, the BJP stand not only smacks of hypocrisy but also a hidden agenda. That the party has chosen to link the polls with Article 35 A now reveals more than its hides. For restoration of democracy and normalcy in Kashmir, the holding of elections both at the state level or panchayat level are only some of the important steps. However, by taking unilateral decisions without consulting major political parties of the state into confidence and by raking up controversial issues in conjunction with discourse on polls, the BJP is reducing the democratic exercise to far greater sham than its present state minus the vital component of civil liberties.



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