Warming Up Sessions

It is too early to predict that an election will take place in Jammu and Kashmir but the political parties are working overtime to get their cadres ready, reports Tahir Bhat

PAGD leaders addressing a press conference in Jammu on December 21, 2021

“No, I have not heard anything about elections, Omar Abdullah, the former Chief Minister, told reporters while exiting from a function in Srinagar. “The moment, I know I will tell you.”

Omar is correct. While a lot of statements are in circulation about the possible elections in Jammu and Kashmir, there is formally no word. BJP, the ruling party, has been advising its cadres to be ready. Its leader in Jammu and Kashmir and most of the leaders who come for governance and political yatras repeated the same thing. But when they are asked about when it is actually happening, the bill gets kicked into the court of the Election Commission of India (ECI). Constitutionally, holding elections is the domain of ECI.

Responding to various queries regarding Jammu and Kashmir in Rajya Sabha, India’s Junior Home Minister, Nityanand Rai indicated a peaceful Kashmir. The administration in Jammu and Kashmir has intimated the centre, he said that there was no significant protest against the report of the Delimitation Commission, even though various political parties expressed different views. He said the statehood would be restored at an appropriate time. “The decision to conduct elections is the prerogative of the ECI,” he said.

At the ECI level, there has not been a great forward movement. The only development is that its high-level team was on five days visit for interaction and training of District Electoral Officers (DEOs), Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) and Assistant Electoral Registration Officers (AEROs). The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) reviewed the ongoing process of Special Summary Revision and publication of final Electoral Rolls. The process is supposed to conclude on October 31.

Playing Kejriwal

The situation is unclear regarding elections but there seems to be some indication that the government of India is willing to permit the political parties to work on the ground. Last week, witnessed a number of events related to politics. Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party that business tycoon Altaf Bukhari literally fathered within the PDP, held impressive shows in the last fortnight. Some of them were in areas where it lacked a mass base and traditionally belonged to National Conference (NC), Congress and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Encouraged by the turnout in the rallies, Bukhari told reporters that the election outcome will surprise Kashmir’s bigwigs, a reference to NC and PDP. He has started playing Kejriwal by announcing that 500 units of energy will be free in his government. In Kashmir periphery, he says he will make apple a priority of his policymaking.

His immediate rival, especially in North Kashmir – SajadGani Lone, is not sitting idle. He is getting more faces into his fold so that he is able to project an impressive set of leaders.

Congress Protests

Even Congress used to be on roads as part of its reactionary politics. Every time, the ED summoned Sonia Gandhi, the Congress would come on the roads in protest. This, political commentators believe indicates that though the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir is a divided mud-house, it still is not down.

The party, it is interesting to mention, is still in crisis. The gang wars within the party led to the resignation of Ghulam Ahmad Mir as its Chief in Jammu and Kashmir after seven years. Now the divide is so deep that the party is unable to appoint Mir’s successor. In a bid to prevent the flock from going astray, the Congress’s top leadership has asked Ghulam Nabi Azad to somehow help mend the fences. Even though he himself is a major group in Congress, all others do respect his seniority.

The indications suggest that Azad will be leading the party in the elections. He has personally said that he has now enough energy to spend moving around in Jammu and Kashmir and reaching the remotest areas. But will it help the party revive and emerge as a challenge to the BJP?

Congress has shrunken itself in the Muslim majority belt of Jammu and Kashmir. There is no possibility of the party taking even a single seat from Jammu and Kashmir’s Hindu belt. Many think, its electoral forays may indirectly help get most of the votes. Earlier, it was friendly with the PAGD but it is unlikely that it will side with the alliance because it will have country-wide repercussions for Congress.

At the same time, the regional parties are not very happy with India’s secular boggy as well. Omar Abdullah was blunt last time when West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee-led TMC conveniently abstained from the Vice Presidential polls. “Opposition unity is a bit of a chimera. Ultimately political parties will do what’s in their own interest & that’s as it should be,” Omar Abdullah tweeted. “J&K saw this when we were left high & dry by “friends” in 2019. It’s time for @JKNC_ to do suits the party rather than waste time chasing ghosts.”

PDP Visible

However, the most important development on the political front was the government permitting the PDP to hold public meetings in Srinagar and many districts on its twenty-third foundation day. It was surprising that the party could manage a better audience almost everywhere including Srinagar.

Even though he is at the top of the BJP hate list in Jammu and Kashmir, Ms Mehbooba Mufti did not stop making suggestions, especially on foreign policy. She insisted that nobody on earth can stop India from becoming a global leader but the road to that status does not go through G20, Quad or G7 but through SAARC. She suggested that India must take the leadership of SAARC, revive it and permit the member countries to invest in Jammu and Kashmir so that it becomes an abode of peace. “Let them (SAARC) open their banks here, create a handicrafts university and let everyone be allowed to move freely, open all routes,” she said. “Why does India and Pakistan trade takes place at Wagha and our window of trade is closed?”

Border apart, Ms Mufti talked about, what she said, was “a war inside J&K” involving “ten lakh Army personnel.” on one side and youth with guns on the other. She said, unlike Kashmir, the Pakistani side of Kashmir is lucky because “it used its strategic position” and became a “gateway to Central and South Asia”. She sought amnesty for all Kashmiri youths languishing in different jails across the country and whose families lack enough funds to visit them.

Ms Mufti suggested to the leadership that replacing mosques with temples will hardly be remembered by history because it earlier happened once. “You will be only remembered for resolving the issue of Jammu & Kashmir,” she insisted. “Open Kashmir to the world like Pakistan and China have done to the other parts of (erstwhile) Kashmir.”

ED and Dr Farooq

How the government reacts to the fiery speech that Ms Mufti delivered remains to be seen. However, what is already public is that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has filed a fresh charge sheet against Jammu and Kashmir’s five times, Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah. Dr Abdullah heads the PAGD of which Mehbooba is the key member. They actually plan to contest the assembly election jointly.

On June 4, the agency made a prosecution complaint (equivalent to a police charge sheet) before a special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court in Srinagar. Ahsan Ahmad Mirza and Mir Manzoor Gazanffer, both former treasurers of the JKCA, are also accused in the case. The case pertains to the “misappropriation of JKCA funds amounting to Rs 43.69 crore” from grants given by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to promote the sport in the erstwhile state between 2002 and 2011.

Dr Abdullah, a sitting MP – who was questioned many times in the past, has been asked to appear before the court on August 27. The agency has already attached residential and commercial properties owned by Abdullah worth Rs 11.86 in December 2020, prompting the NC leader to approach the high court.

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