Beyond Statehood and Elections

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On January 9, the tenure of Panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir came to an end, therefore, leaving only District Development Councils as the elected representative body of people.

Following the dissolution of Panchayats, the Jammu and Kashmir administration issued a notification passing on powers of Panchayats to Block Development Officers.

“The term of Halqa Panchayat(s) has expired on 09.01.2024 and Government is satisfied that the Halqa Panchayat(s) cannot be constituted immediately. Now therefore in exercise of the powers by Section 9 of Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, the Government hereby appoints Block Development Officers (BDOs) as Administrator(s), for running the affairs of the Panchayat Halqas under their jurisdiction for a period of six months w.e.f 10.01.2024 or till further orders, whichever is earlier”, reads an order.

The only elected body in place in Jammu and Kashmir is of DDCs which will be completing its tenure soon, therefore, leaving entire Union Territory without any elected representation.

On June 30, 2002, Akhil Bhartatiya Karyakari Mandal (ABKM) passed a five point resolution in which it supported the demand for separate UT status of Ladakh. It has also supported the demand for the separate statehood of Jammu including Muslim majority Rajouri, Poonch and Doda districts which according to ABKM are not communal and anti national.

While Government of India should have directed Election Commission of India to hold the elections on time of Panchayats, however, much to the disappointment of political parties, the State Election Commission (SEC) announced a special  summary revision of electoral rolls. This has pushed the anticipated elections for away then expected with no apparent timeline in place. The summary rolls will be published by February 26 while on the other side the delimitation of wards is also underway.

The point, however is not about delay in elections for local bodies, rather it has to be seen as a larger game plan of government of India to fix Kashmir problem permanently.

The elections of local bodies are being delayed despite BJP government in New Delhi boasting persistently over the years that it brought grassroots democracy in Jammu and Kashmir to life.

It is also true that in BJP government only for the first time in Kashmir history that the UT was empowered with three tier elected democratic institutions and the powers earlier restricted to Civil secretariat or State Assembly were decentralised on ground.

It has given a hope to hundreds of youths who despite constant threats from terrorists fought for grassroots elections and represented their people. This has led to an emergence of fresh breed of leadership deeply connected on ground, not only challenging the status quo but equally giving tough time to dynastic politics.

Now despite this huge investment why government of India is unlikely to hold polls in Jammu and Kashmir for both grassroots and assembly elections.

The last time Assembly elections in the UT were held in 2014 in which PDP emerged as largest political party and forged an alliance with BJP. The government collapsed in 2018 after BJP pulled out from it. Since then there is no elected Assembly in the UT.

The Supreme Court after upholding August 5, 2019 decision of Indian Parliament of abrogating Article 370 and downgrading Jammu and Kashmir as UT, also directed ECI to hold elections in J&K by September 30, 2024.

Prior to September this year, the ECI is busy with holding Lok Sabha elections in the country.

But the bigger question is what if BJP again emerges as single largest party in Lok Sabha elections which seems certain given the public pulse on ground.

The future of J&K is linked to the Lok Sabha elections and will entirely be depending on BJP’s performance.

Even the local political parties are not hopeful of having Assembly elections in the UT anytime soon.

“ The ECI should have put down its head in shame for failing to hold elections in the UT. The GoI has to facilitate the process. But unfortunately the Supreme Court has to intervene and directed ECI to hold elections by September,” said Omar Abdullah and added that it has to be seen if the directions are obeyed.

By and large all the political parties in the UT have a same opinion that the BJP fears to put its popularity on trial owing to which it delays elections. It is immature and ill conceived political thought of those who have not properly understood BJP and its parent organization-RSS. A deeply ideological driven BJP is unlikely to compromise its principles especially in Kashmir where it has little or no political ambitions and perceives it as a gateway to strategic importance and cultural cradle of India. In these twin challenges, BJP backed by RSS thought process has a different yardstick to tackle the Kashmir. To understand it further, we need to go back to 2002 resolution it passed in Kurukshetra, Haryana where the blueprint was given to tackle Kashmir problem permanently.

What does the resolution say?

On June 30, 2002, Akhil Bhartatiya Karyakari Mandal (ABKM) passed a five point resolution in which it supported the demand for separate UT status of Ladakh. It has also supported the demand for the separate statehood of Jammu including Muslim majority Rajouri, Poonch and Doda districts which according to ABKM are not communal and anti national.

The resolution also supported and demanded the political emancipation of West Pak refugees who according to them were bereft by local political parties from participating in local elections.

It has also strongly demanded the return of Kashmiri pandits who were forcibly pushed out of their ancestral homes.

The ABKM also assured full support to those elements who support and work for the full integration of Kashmir with Bharat.

The resolution however, doesn’t speak about the future of Kashmir once Jammu is carved out of it as a separate state.

While on 5 August, 2019 most of the points have already been fulfilled, the only thing left is carving out Jammu as separate state and ensuring the return of Kashmiri Pandits to their ancestral properties which is gradually taking place.

 J&K Assembly adopts resolution

Following the resolution passed by RSS, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on March 3, 2004 adopted the resolution with voice note denouncing any division of erstwhile state and its boundaries.

The resolution was introduced by CPIM leader MY Tarigami and stated that some forces are attempting to alter the boundaries of state on the basis of religion and targeting it’s secular fabric.

The resolution was adopted on March 3, 2004 and asserting that the unity of Jammu and Kashmir is enshrined in the constitution of state itself. According to section 4 of the constitution of the state territory of the state shall comprise all the territories, which were under the sovereignty and suzerainty of the ruler of the state on August 15th 1947.

“This House resolves that to preserve the unity and secular character of Jammu and Kashmir State, its division shall not be allowed”

The unity and integrity of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is enshrined in the constitution of the State itself. According to section 4 of the Constitution of the State territory of the state shall comprise all the territories, which were under the sovereignty of suzerainty of the ruler of the state on 15th August 1947.

Similarly, Article 3 of the Constitution of India provides that Parliament may by law:-

a)            From a new state by separation of territory from any State or by uniting two or more States or by uniting any territory to a part of any State;

b)            Increase the area of any State;

c)             Diminish the area of any State;

d)            Alter the boundaries of any State;

e)            Alter the name of any State.

Provides that no bill for this purpose shall be introduced in either House of Parliament except on the recommendations of the President and no such Bill shall be introduced inn the House except after obtaining the views of the legislature of the concerned State.

However, in so far as the State of Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, no alteration can be made in its boundaries nor can its name be changed by Parliament until and unless it has the consent of the State legislature, which makes it abundantly clear that ultimately it is the State legislature, which has the final say in the matter. As far as the present Government is concerned, the question of changing the boundaries or the name of the State on religious/caste or any other consideration does not arise.

The State has off and on faced many difficult situation owing to terrorism sponsored from across the border, which has caused disturbances in the State. However, the State, its people and the Government have preserved its unity and its secular character despite heterogeneous, ethnic, linguistic and demographic character of the State.

Certain elements have suggested trifurcation of the State during the recent past. Keeping in view the constitutional provisions, the division of the State cannot be made and it well remain united. The State Government will resist and oppose any moves to undermine the integrity of the State. The present Government is committed to the development of all the three regions of the State, removing disparity, if any, and is committed to keep all the three regions of the State of Jammu and Kashmir together.

While there has been an immediate denouncement from the state Assembly to the resolution of RSS, the fate of the erstwhile state assembly could be seen from the decision of New Delhi it took on August 5, 2019.

 It is to be anticipated that after Lok Sabha elections this year, If BJP yet again emerges as a the single largest party, it may execute its second phase of plan on Jammu and Kashmir. Which is why it has not made any commitment in the Supreme Court of restoring statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and holding elections anytime soon. The Supreme Court was compelled to pass direction to ECI on its own and asked to hold elections by September 30, 2024.

Now the question is how the Kashmir is to be tackled if Jammu is separated and restored as separate state.

After 2019, when Government of India directly controlled Jammu and Kashmir, it succeeded in normalising the security situation on ground. There are no more hartals, no internet shutdowns, no stone pelting and the terrorism is at the lowest point. Anti militancy operations with no collateral damage are achieving a major success. The element of separatism is drastically suppressed.  The infrastructural development is shaping and transforming the cities and towns. With an ever increase footfalls of tourists, the economy is stabilizing. This has set a hope to New Delhi that Kashmir can be handled and problem can be fixed which seems more of internal failures.

New Delhi doesn’t want to take chance anymore and hand its affairs back to any local elected government that may potentially bring back the terrorism. The rising threat from China is actually more concerning for New Delhi unlike Pakistan which is on crossroads. Kashmir’s sensitive location may place it as a sensitive strategic zone for India and its infrastructure and developmental needs may come up accordingly in future where local elections may be considered as stumbling block.

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