LS Elections Qualifying Round To Year-end Assembly Polls

LS Elections Qualifying Round To Year-end Assembly Polls

16 March 2014
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Arun Joshi

Jammu: Which way now? In this year of elections that could redirect history in Kashmir, the first thing has been decided. The two ruling alliance partners in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference and the Congress, are going to the Lok Sabha elections with a pre-poll alliance. What happens after the parliamentary elections and the policies the two parties will pursue will have consequences affecting the whole of the state. The pre-poll alliance for the parliamentary elections is not a blind stumble. This is a deliberate move to see what results the elections will deliver in May. That will determine the future course. On the basis of that the two parties will decide whether to repeat the experiment during the Assembly elections or not. However, all that will depend on how the voters will make their choice. Both parties know that it is a qualifying round for them to the finals - the Assembly elections are scheduled for the year-end. At best, this is a semi-final not only between the Alliance and the Opposition, but also between the two ruling coalition partners. Both the Congress and the National Conference - each contesting three seats are going to watch how many Assembly segments they will win in these elections. The Congress is contesting from 41 segments, which form part of three Lok Sabha seats - Jammu, 20; Udhampur, 17; and Ladakh, 4. The National Conference is contesting from 46 segments in the Valley, forming part of three Lok Sabha seats in the Valley - Srinagar, 15; Baramulla, 15; and Anantnag, 16. The race to win the maximum number of Assembly segments is not only between the Congress and the BJP in Jammu and Ladakh regions, but the National Conference is also keen to repeat its 2009 performance in 2014 in all the 46 Assembly segments. Firstly, it will demonstrate which party stands where; secondly, it will be used as a bargaining chip during the Assembly elections, if at all the pre-poll alliance mantra is repeated in the year-end elections. The focus during the Lok Sabha elections is on local issues and not on the national issues. The national issues have been pushed to the periphery. The approach of the parties is unclear: whether they will like to bring Kashmir closer to the rest of the country or sing the old song that they want autonomy, self-rule and so on, which has kept the people hostage to slogans, while their real-time difficulties have remained unaddressed. No one is talking about that. The Centre’s liberal aid for the development of the state finds passing reference. The connectivity through rail and mega road and hydro-electric projects is all due to the Centre -the state on its own has focused on the panchayat elections and near-normalcy in the state. For voters, the choice revolves around their homes and the neighbourhood issues - water, electricity, roads and schools and employment. They are very much aware of the national issues. Kashmiri voters are also aware of the international affairs but they know that first they have got to see to the resolution of issues concerning themselves. That was clearly shown by them during the 2011 panchayat elections. That experiment is going haywire as the process was left mid-way. Yet after a contest so starkly cast, the road ahead is obscure. The issue is not peace versus security alone: all residents of Jammu and Kashmir crave for both, and each candidate is expected to promise that he or she can deliver both, if vastly by different means. In 1996, the National Conference had boycotted the parliamentary elections, saying that unless the state was granted greater autonomy, it would not participate in any elections. In the same year, it took part in the Assembly elections - the autonomy remained a distant dream then as it was before and after the elections. As the things stand where they stood earlier, what has come under scrutiny is the performance of the ruling coalition since January 5, 2009. The report card is not that bright, which suggests that things cannot be taken for granted. Thus, this qualifying round is really very difficult. It is all about regaining the faith of voters on their real-time issues.