THIS year Kashmir is expected to go to the polls. That is if the delimitation commission completes its exercise within the next few weeks as it is expected to do. The Delimitation Commission will be submitting its report on May 6 after which summary revision of Electoral Rolls will be taken up by the Election Commission while all aspects of the situation including security will be reviewed before taking a call on the conduct of Assembly elections in the union territory.
Headed by Retired Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and comprising Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra and State Election Commissioner (SEC) KK Sharma, the Commission was established on March 6, 2020 with a one-year term which was extended by another year. While the term was due to expire on March 6, 2022, it was granted two months extension. The Commission is unlikely to get another extension.
And if the elections are held later this year or early next year and a UT government is formed, the focus will shift to the restoration of statehood. One takeaway from the recent victory of the BJP in four out of five state elections in the country is that there will be a policy continuity in Kashmir. More so, the victory for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh which has almost ensured that the party is here to stay and is set to win in the 2024 general elections. So people in Kashmir don’t see any material change in the centre’s policy towards the union territory.
Kashmir has been without an elected government since June 2018. And after the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019, the state turned union territory came under the rule of the Lieutenant Governor. Two and a half years on, there is little indication that an elected government would be in place anytime soon.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah had recently stated that Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir will be held within six to eight months after the completion of the delimitation exercise. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led government is prioritizing the achievement of its broader objectives in Kashmir before restoring the statehood. And to this objective, it will ideally want a government that doesn’t differ starkly from the BJP’s policy on the troubled state.
An ideal arrangement from the centre’s point of view would be a government dominated by the BJP, whose chances following the delimitation of seats look brighter. Or, at least, a government of the party or parties which have reconciled to the loss of the autonomy as a fait accompli. And such a scenario looks very much possible. But Jammu and Kashmir has always been very unpredictable place. As of now, people would want elections to be held soon so that a local government is in place and they have access to their representatives.
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