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Skipping assembly polls, whenever held, not possible for major political parties even if statehood is not restored before elections, writes Zahoor Malik

A group photograph of 14 Jammu and Kashmir participants in the All Party Meeting that Prime minister Narendra Modi hosted on June 24, 2021, at his official residence. The photograph marked the beginning of the meeting.

Despite taking a tough stand that statehood to Jammu and Kashmir be restored before the assembly elections, the major mainstream political parties cannot afford to skip the assembly polls whenever held even if their demand is not met.

This is in spite of the fact that the implementation of the recommendations to be made by the delimitation commission are likely to change the spectrum and equations of the electoral politics in the erstwhile state.

National Conference, which is the key player in Kashmir politics and an important constituent of Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), will not like to stay away from polls and give a cakewalk to pro-centre parties. NC described the delimitation process as unconstitutional but still held meetings with the delimitation commission. There is a general feeling that since the party did not boycott district development council (DDC) polls; it cannot stay away from assembly elections.

However, it is to be seen whether PDP would join the electoral fray or not. The party avoided meeting the delimitation commission. If reports from within the PDP are to be believed then a section of the party leadership is unhappy with president Mehoooba Mufti for boycotting the delimitation commission. They fear further victimisation by the government.

Challenging Months Ahead

Coming months will be very challenging for Mehbooba because she would be under intense pressure from party men to take part in elections. The mainstream leaders, workers and supporters do not want to stay away from elections because of the disadvantages it can lead to. They want to remain very much relevant in politics by being part of elections.

The PAGD leaders met after a hiatus of almost six months, a day ahead of the Delhi invite. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

After the all-party meeting, the local leadership was expecting the release of those in jails and other related confidence-building measures as face-saving. But this did not happen and the central government without giving any kind of concessions revealed its roadmap. And that is the completion of the delimitation process, assembly polls and later the restoration of statehood. Home Minister Amit Shah in his tweet said completion of the delimitation process and peaceful assembly polls are important milestones for the restoration of statehood.

Reconciliation Process?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi by inviting the Jammu and Kashmir parties for the meeting in a way started a process of reconciliation. But he made it clear also in his tweet that youth should lead the people. This indicates that the centre has not given up its efforts to encourage the formation of new parties and groups of youth to take part in politics and contest polls.

The Centre continues to be in a commanding position even as some say that the meeting was convened due to external pressure. The local leaders are in a bad shape due to the demolition of the political structure and subsequent actions against them. They are not in a position of strength to get things done through bargaining. They have to either accept what the centre’s line of action is or move out and pay the price. PDP moved out and did not hold talks with the delimitation commission. The party is crying foul as it began to face the music later.

Only time will tell how long Mehbooba can take hard decisions and how long her party men would support her in this. But it is a fact that she cannot go too far. If she has to go like this, most of her remaining leaders may move out with the passage of time. Her party men would never like not to be part of elections.

Mehbooba Mufti

Some BJP leaders have started accusing Mehbooba of behaving like the senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani and making PDP like a separatist party. They criticised her after she advocated talks with Pakistan and refused to hold talks with visiting delimitation commission.

After August 5, 2019, the central government completely smashed the separatist camp in Kashmir. The senior leaders are either in jails or under house arrest and their second line is also in jails. The separatist camp is invisible from the scene, at least right now.

PDP President Mehbooba Mufti consoling the relatives of the slain SPO at Hariparigam village of Awantipora on Tuesday, June 29, 2021

After the dismissal of the Mehbooba Mufti government, BJP used to blame her for soft separatism and now they say she has switched over to separatism. However, PDP is denying this allegation saying they are demanding the rights of people within the Indian constitution and that any dissidence is being dubbed as anti-national.

Some parties are also accusing PDP of taking such a stance for electoral gains with an eye on the separatist constituency. But there are others who feel that senior separatist leaders have lost influence on youth. According to them even if some elderly separatists may be having some soft corner for PDP but that does not mean their young family members must be having the same feeling for it.

Return To Relevance

Political observers feel that while Mehbooba is trying to go out of way to regain the ground lost due to the formation of a government with BJP, it is very difficult to get its dented image corrected. They say that PDP fought the last assembly polls with the slogan to stop the entry of BJP in Kashmir but itself formed the government with the party after the elections. The bitterness caused by the statements and actions by the two sides after the fall of government is continuously increasing acrimony between them.

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