ECI Should Visit J&K Soon

In a potential setback to chances of simultaneous Parliament and Assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir, the  Election Commission of India (ECI) has deferred its visit to Jammu and Kashmir which was scheduled to take place on January 27 and 28. The team, headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, was to take a final call on whether to hold simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the state or defer the Assembly elections by a few months. The reasons for deferring the visit are unknown. But whatever be the reasons, a decision to postpone the Assembly polls by a few months would not make the Valley happy. Not that the people want the polls to be held. Not that the people are fed up of the Governor rule and want an elected government – albeit, some exuberance on law-making front shown by the Governor’s administration has made people uncomfortable. Not that also that the people are eager to participate in the polls. On the contrary, they can’t care less. There is little to indicate that the exercise will generate any public excitement. 

But the concern is because the exercise is seen as a necessary evil and holding it leads to steep escalation in violence and the consequent disruption on an extensive scale. This affects routine life, brings untold suffering to  ordinary people and  also sets back the economy. Already, Kashmir economy has been reeling because of the severe winter and frequent closures of the Jammu-Srinagar highway. Over the past some years, the number of the tourists to the Valley has also drastically dwindled.

What makes the exercise further fraught is the nature of the political conflict over the state which has rendered an electoral exercise an inherently problematic affair. Kashmir’s political narrative originates from a fundamental ideological divide: it is pro-India parties versus  Azadi camp. And in regard to polls, this divide manifests itself in terms of a bitter contestation over the legitimacy of the exercise. Pro-India parties participate in the exercise, separatists shun it.  This has created a lingering poll boycott discourse which even while its appeal has intermittently waxed and waned, the sense of guilt associated with the ballot has refused to go.

This is why a simultaneous Assembly and Parliament election is a best case scenario. The disruption that has to take place will take place only once, not over the entire course of the year. So, there is a strong case for the concurrent polls in Kashmir. The ECI thus should visit J&K at the earliest. And it is likely to find a political consensus in the state around the holding of simultaneous Parliament and state election in the state.

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