Forthcoming Elections For J&K State Assembly
17 February 2008
Srinagar: Elections are considered the heart of any political process since they signify democracy in practice. As the six-year term of the current J & K State Legislative Assembly comes to an end in October 2008, the state readies itself for the upcoming assembly elections to be held most likely during the period between August and September this year. While all elections are important, those in Jammu and Kashmir are more so. Elections have played a critical role in the alienation of Kashmiri people from New Delhi. The State Assembly Election of 1987 is considered the most immediate cause for the eruption of militancy in the state, in the course of which thousands of people have been killed over the last 18 years. It is important to examine which political parties will participate in these elections and what their main slogans during the campaign will be. It is widely believed that the Hurriyat Conference will not participate in this election because of two reasons. First, it is divided, and second, the conditions previously laid down by the Hurriyat before New Delhi for participating in the elections, have not been met. Thus the Hurriyat is likely to stay out of the electoral race but one thing which both factions of the Hurriyat, that is, both Geelani and the moderates, are expected to do, is run an aggressive campaign calling for the boycott of these elections. Other political parties which are certain to participate in the election are the National Conference (NC), People's Democratic Party (PDP), Congress, BJP, Panthers party, and Communist Party of India among others. Of these the BJP, CPI M, and Panthers Party however, are active and popular only in particular constituencies and do not enjoy state-wide support. The main parties in the election fray therefore will be the NC, PDP, and Congress. Of these, the NC alone enjoys and is in a position to win seats from all three regions - Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. The PDP on the other hand is visible only in the Kashmir division and even within that is popular only in two districts i.e. Anantnag and Baramullah. In addition, in Jammu and Ladakh, the party is not well organized at the grassroots level. The Congress being a national party has its disadvantages at the regional level. It is expected that there will be a pre- poll alliance between the PDP and Congress. In the forthcoming election therefore, there is every possibility of a direct contest between the National Conference and the PDP-Congress alliance. The PDP is seen as more passionate and supportive of the pre-poll alliance, as it knows that without the alliance it hardly stands a chance to come to power. The NC is trying hard to break this alliance before the elections since it believes this alliance will come in their way of coming to power. The PDP and Congress in their election campaign are likely to highlight developmental initiatives and other policies carried out in the last six years. They will however, face certain difficulties because when they formed the present Government in 2002, the people of the state had been promised a lot of things which later turned Machiavellian. The PDP- Congress coalition has failed on many issues mainly corruption, protection of human rights, unemployment, peace process, etc. In the last six years J&K has witnessed corruption at the highest levels where ministers of cabinet rank and other high ranking bureaucrats were reported to have been involved in various corruption and sex scandals. Human rights violations are rampant with the State Human Rights Commission having recorded 366 cases of human rights violations in the state in its 2006-2007 report. Unemployment, another major concern in the state, is steadily rising with no effective plan to address the same. The peace process continues to be where it was in 2002 with no progress, save the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road. The National Conference in the election campaign is unlikely to miss any opportunity to criticize the coalition government on the above mentioned points. But the NC itself is not without faults. Other than the issue of 'autonomy', they have little else to motivate the people to vote for them. There are certain things which can go against the NC like the declaration by the party of Dr Farooq Abdullah as their chief ministerial candidate and his support for Narendra Modi. The elections are closing in with each passing day and no one can predict with certainty its outcome. However, what is clear is that no single party is in a position to get a majority. J&K, therefore, is heading for yet another coalition government.