The Election Commission of India is still silent on holding assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir. Some speculation had been there that the elections could be held after parliamentary elections and before Amarnath Yatra sometime in June. However, there is no official word on the matter. Almost all the pro election groups in Jammu and Kashmir favour holding of assembly elections without delay. The state has been under Delhi’s direct rule since the break-up in PDP-BJP relations in June last year which eventually saw the exit of Mahbooba Mufti as chief minister of the state. Election Commission of India visited the state and held consultations with the relevant political parties and state administration many a times over the past six months. Going by the feedback the Commission got, it was believed that the assembly elections would be held simultaneously with the parliamentary elections. However, the Commission ignored these pleas and put the assembly elections on hold while announcing schedule for the Lok Sabha elections in the state. Election Commission, while announcing the schedule for parliamentary elections, said that elections for Jammu and Kashmir Assembly could not be held simultaneous due to security restraints. This was despite the fact that all the political parties supporting the poll process had sought simultaneous polls along with parliamentary elections when full team of ECI was on a visit of the state on March 4. PDP president and former chief minister Mahbooba Mufti called it as a setback for democracy in Jammu and Kashmir. Though Mahbooba is not confident about the electoral success of her party but she put up a brave face by castigating the Election Commission for putting the assembly elections on hold. Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister and NC acting President has taken a direct dig on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying it was no less than surrender before Pakistan, militants and Hurriyat Conference, and “where is the 56 inch chest”. Omar Abdullah’s frustrating statement could be viewed in the context that he sees a chance for his party to grab the power again in the given situation.
It is quite an undeniable fact that the situation in Kashmir has been alarming since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016. South Kashmir, in particular, has been tense. It is for this fact that the ECI could not hold the by-election for Anantnag parliamentary seat in March 2017. The situation in south Kashmir is still grim and it is for this fact that the polling for this parliamentary seat is being held in three phases. It is for the first time that such a polling schedule has been announced for any constituency in the state. The separatists who have called for boycott of the elections hold a considerable sway over south Kashmir. The maximum number of militants is also reported from this region of the valley. But there is one silver lining which suggests that the assembly elections would not evoke as much ire as in the past. There is a section of people who believe that presence of elected government is necessary to safeguard whatever little special status the state enjoys. A common refrain is that the BJP-led central government has been trying to trample upon the state’s special position by undoing Article 35-A and 370 of the Indian constitution which grants some special position to Jammu and Kashmir. With Delhi’s man (Governor) at the helm of affairs, it is unlikely the present dispensation would defend it. A few months back Governor’s administration took a slew of measures including separating Ladakh from Kashmir division, changes procedure of issuing Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), amendment in rules of Jammu & Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act — by virtue of which the State Human Rights Commission will be unable to investigate any complaint of human rights violation submitted one year after the incident — “an act beyond its mandate” has necessitated the need for an elected government. In that context, the sentiment for boycott of polls is not so deep among common people. ECI should take the advantage of the situation and it should not have deferred the assembly polls. The ECI can still rethink and re-schedule the assembly elections soon after the parliamentary elections.