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Civic elections

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The “surprise” decision of the recently formed alliance of pro accession political parties, under the banner of Peoples Alliance of Gupkar Declaration, to take part in the elections for the panchayat bodies, has evoked a mixed response. There are people, and there are many, who term this decision as lust for power of the politicians as any kind of participation in any event that normalises the decisions taken on August 5 last year by the BJP led union government amounts to supporting what happened that day. However there are others, who defend the PAGD decision on the ground that the leadership of the alliance had no other alternative but to accept the challenge and demonstrate that people are at the back of their political stand as far as August, 5, 2019 actions are concerned. While both the narratives have their merits, joining the electoral fray seems to carry more weight given the political situation that has been obtaining in Jammu and Kashmir for more than a year now. There is no denying the fact that with the August 5 decision a huge political vacuum was created in Jammu and Kashmir with all those leaders and activists who stood for the finality of the accession and participated in the electoral process thrown into prisons and an unwritten ban on every kind of political activity imposed. However, strangely this ban did not seem to be extended to the ruling party at the centre which carried on its activities not only in Jammu but expanded its operations in the valley where the field was open for them.

With the release of most of the political leaders and other workers, though there are many still in jails, the situation has undergone some changes. The formation of PAGD by almost all the major parties to, what they claim is “fighting for restoration of pre-August 5 status” was a first step towards relaunching political activities in Jammu and Kashmir. But even before the alliance could launch its activities formally, came the notification for the elections to various panchayat bodies that have of late been given wide powers, more than what elected legislators, bureaucrats or for that matter an elected government wielded earlier. Earlier when panchayat and civic body elections were called, almost all the major political parties in Kashmir boycotted. This led to a situation where those having the least knowledge of the field they were entering, managed to run these institutions. BJP also took full advantage of the absence of local political parties and managed to emerge as a force in Kashmir. The apprehension that PAGD has is that this time too, a similar situation could arise where the party would capture the all-important panchayat posts. The emerging situation was a double-edged sword for the PAGD and it became a tightrope walk for its leaders. The political leaders believe that if they would boycott the polls, the field would be open for BJP and its allies and till the court verdict comes of August 5 decisions, all important civic offices would have been taken over by those who are openly supporting New Delhi’s actions. Another option was to limit the activities to the restoration pre-August 5 status and till it was achieved, watch the happenings as mute spectator. However, that could not be an ideal situation for the alliance as that would mean giving a walkover to its political opponents. The elections to panchayat and civic institutions are more civil than political. The political goal that PAGD has fixed for itself has to be a long battle and till then leaving the political space completely empty and allowing its adversaries to capture important civic offices could prove counterproductive, rather suicidal. No doubt the choice for PAGD is not an easy one and their entire political career is now at stake. Coming months will be crucial in judging how the alliance comes out of this crisis and can it to some extent come up to the little expectations that people have from it.