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Putting Assembly elections on hold

Election Commission of India’s decision to not hold Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir has evoked an angry reaction from the pro election parties, mainly National Conference and the Peoples’ Democratic Party. 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. His archrival Mahbooba Mufti is in a sort of political isolation. She has lost a number of senior leaders and former minister to other parties, National Conference in particular. Some other leaders, who have left the party but have not joined any party so far, are likely to launch their own parties. Omar Abdullah thinks himself and his party natural beneficiaries from the disarray in PDP. Omar Abdullah’s angry reaction to EC’s decision should be viewed against this backdrop.

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. The state is currently under President’s rule. Almost 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. Citing security concerns, Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced that the election will be held on a later date. 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.

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 fear of low or no voter turnout forced the PDP candidate and Mahbooba’s brother Tassadduq Hussain to withdraw from the election, and the ECI ultimately dropped the idea of holding the election. 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.Last month 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 almost all mainstream political parties called it “an act beyond its mandate” and asked to expedite the need for an elected government. In that context, the sentiment for boycott of polls is not so deep among common people. ECI should have taken advantage of the situation and it should not have deferred the assembly polls. The ECI can still rethink and re-schedule the assembly election simultaneously with parliamentary elections.