Lieutenant Governor Girish Chander Murmu has recently said that his government is pro-actively working to hold Assembly elections in the union territory. People in the Valley are certain to take the statement with a pinch of salt. This is because the governments in J&K and in New Delhi have making such statements over the past one and a half year but the elections have not been held. Along the way, J&K has come to lose its special status under the constitution and been bifurcated into two union territories, J&K and Ladakh. So people can’t be sure what is in store. That said, elections to Assembly have now an entirely different meaning. The representatives will now be elected to a disempowered assembly which will be subservient to Lieutenant Governor’s administration. The next elected chief minister will have drastically curtailed powers and, in most matters, will have to go by the orders of the LG.
It is yet to be seen how the mainstream parties like National Conference, the PDP and Congress will approach an Assembly election. Recently they had boycotted the block development council (BDC) polls. The BJP was the only major party contesting the election. In the absence of the three major mainstream parties which between them control more than two-thirds of the electoral space in Valley and also wield a significant political clout in Jammu region, the BDC polls were of little interest to the people. This also created a difficult situation for the governments in the state and New Delhi which could not make the polls appear credible in the absence of the major parties.
But Assembly polls are an entirely different enterprise. They are a disproportionately bigger exercise than BDC polls where only elected panches and sarpanches had to vote. The Assembly elections are being held in an altogether different context. And it is both a troubled and a politically contentious context. J&K has been divested of Article 370 which granted erstwhile state a semi-autonomous status. So the participation in the polls by the major mainstream parties will take yet another interpretation. The participation will be seen as an endorsement of the withdrawal of the Article 370. So political parties face a difficult dilemma. At the same time, they would find it tricky to avoid the polls. Not participating will once again leave the field open to the BJP. As things stand, the party is likely to not only sweep the elections in Jammu but also, in the absence of a competition, make inroads into Kashmir Valley. So, the NC and the PDP will have no option but to participate in the electoral process. But one can hope they will resolve it once all the senior leaders are freed.