A Democracy Test

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Eid over, now all sights are set on the ensuing Assembly session.  The opposition National Conference, CPM and independent legislator Engineer Rasheed have moved private member bills seeking scrapping of the beef ban.  J&K Gvernment has moved Supreme Court against the High Court orders relating to ban on beef in the state – one about the strict implementation of the beef ban and the other seeking the government response on a petition challenging the ban on beef in the state.  SC has agreed to hear the plea on Monday. 

These are the developments which will hog the limelight through the coming week. But the most heat is likely to be generated by the Assembly session. The party that has a rare political opportunity to make an impact is the National Conference. If NC shows some commitment and stays the course, it can steer the debate on this sensitive issue, without being burdened by the need to placate the elements of Hindu rightwing in Jammu. From whatever angle you look at it, the anti-beef bill looks set to be  passed in the Assembly. The three major parties PDP, NC, Congress and the independent legislators are in favour of the passing of the bill. And between them they have more than two-third of the legislators. Only BJP is opposed to the move.

Now should a bill be tabled in the Assembly, how will PDP and BJP behave? It is not difficult to predict: While it will be easy for BJP to oppose, PDP will find it difficult to support it without straining the alliance. At the same time PDP cannot also oppose the bill considering such a stance will alienate its core constituency in Valley. The best course available for the party would be to abstain from the vote. And if that happens, this can clear the decks for the passage of the bill with NC and Congress support. But as things stand, whatever way it plays out, it will be to the detriment of the ruling PDP, hemmed in by its coalition with BJP.

But will NC rise to the occasion? This remains to be seen. There are apprehensions in the state that despite the predominant majority in the state being against beef ban and despite the majority of the legislators supporting the anti-beef bill, nothing will happen. The basis for this fear is the 2011 resolution on Afzal Guru. At that time too, despite major parties expressing themselves in favour of the resolution, an elaborate political theatre was played out in Assembly to ensure it was not passed. And in this theatre, all major political parties participated, some staging an uproar while others looked on passively. It was an anti-climax that was anticipated but not expected.

Will history be repeated? People will hardly be surprised should this happen.  Shall a charade be again enacted?  It is difficult to rule it out. But it will be a tragedy if this happens. For there will be no justification for this. It will also be a sad comment on the state of democracy in the state.  A democracy that doesn’t reflect the legitimate aspirations of the majority of the population can hardly be called a democracy. It will be something else.

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