In recent past, government has given little indication that it is thinking in terms of releasing the detained leaders. All major political leaders from Kashmir based parties including three former Chief Ministers – Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – are currently under detention. Though UT Government has dropped hints about restarting the political activity, people in the Valley are inclined to be sceptical of any such prospect. A political activity will mean restoration of electoral process. But over the past one and a half year 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.
People aren’t sure what is in store. Before revocation of Article 370, people did want an Assembly election. But now they aren’t keen about it. They don’t think elections will make any redeeming difference. For one, elections to a UT Assembly have now an entirely different meaning. The representatives will now be elected to a largely disempowered assembly which will be subservient to Lieutenant Governor’s administration. The next elected chief minister will have drastically curtailed remit and, in most matters, will have to go by the orders of the LG.
It will be interesting to see how the mainstream parties like National Conference, the PDP and Congress will approach an Assembly election. The three parties had recently boycotted the block development council (BDC) polls, making the BJP the only major party to contest the election.
Between them the National Conference, the PDP and Congress control more than two-thirds of the electoral space in Kashmir Valley and also wield a significant political clout in Jammu region. But Assembly polls are an entirely different ball game. They are a disproportionately bigger exercise than BDC polls where only elected panches and sarpanches had to vote. But the problem is that the Assembly elections are being held in an altogether altered 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. This is expected to give the participation in the polls by the major mainstream parties an entirely different interpretation. Should mainstream parties decide to participate it will be seen as an endorsement of the withdrawal of the Article 370 and which they don’t want to do as of now. The continued detention of the political leaders is in part also because they have refused to sign on to New Delhi’s line on Article 370. So political parties face a tough dilemma.
It will be interesting what these parties decide finally. But that will be only possible if their leaders are released and allowed to formulate a response to the evolving situation in the UT.