Indications are clear that the Jammu and Kashmir will not have the remote rule for a long time as the process for the state elections has almost started. Though a formal announcement by the Election Commission of India is yet to be made, there are clear pointers that Delhi wants simultaneous elections for both the assembly and the Lok Sabha early 2019. The elections will be a multi-phase exercise suggesting that the process may follow the Lok Sabha constituencies. Jammu and Kashmir have six berths in the Lok Sabha, three in Kashmir, one in Ladakh and two in Jammu.
For the last two weeks, there have been a lot of activities taking place on this front. Initially, the Election Commission had a meeting in which the security-related inputs were sought from the Home Ministry. A high-level meeting was convened in which the security grid gave its inputs which were in tune with the political thought process in Delhi that both the elections must be held together. The factors responsible for this thinking were the crucial inputs by a senior Congress leader in Delhi who suggested that not many voters will be lured to the booths for Lok Sabha and that can create an embarrassing situation. The last by-election in central Kashmir constituency, that eventually elected Dr Farooq Abdullah to the Lok Sabha, witnessed only seven per cent participation and the day was very violent as seven civilians were killed. This eventually led to the cancellation of the polls in South Kashmir. The Congressman had suggested that assembly, unlike Lok Sabha, will lead to better participation.
The Chief Electoral Office in the state has also started working. Apart from mandatory inputs to the ECI, it recently had a meeting with all the political parties. Reports suggested that the entire political class was supportive of the idea that both elections must be held together. The only twist was that the BJP representatives neither supported the idea nor opposed it.
BJP’s state unit had been suggesting the centre that the elections must be held separately. Their contention is that holding state assembly elections later would help them get the party’s campaigners for a long time which may not be possible during Lok Sabha. Seemingly, they have failed to impress the central leadership.
The political class that, off late, has started moving out to south Kashmir has regretted the governor administration’s scaling down of their security detail. They have insisted that their movement is being deliberately restricted even by the actions of the government.
While the government may look into their grievances, the government will have to take the situation seriously. There is a desperate requirement for interventions at a level involving the general security of the people. The political class is suggestive of a series of measures that, they believe, will help them communicate with the people better. Random arrests by the security grid, especially in south Kashmir is being talked about by all the political beings. In fact, one of the Kashmir party leaders visited two places deep south and in both the cases, the arrests were the main factor.
In absence of some confidence-building measures, there is an apprehension that the assembly polls could face a hostile response. Some sort of positive engagement is required outside the police stations and the garrisons.