Why J&K Parties' Memorandum to ECI Could Be the Glue That Brings the Opposition Together

The move can only strengthen the opposition’s accusations against the Union government and may trigger a fresh discussion on diminishing democratic standards in India.

New Delhi: Opposition parties’ memorandum to the Election Commission of India requesting immediate assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir comes at a time when Rahul Gandhi’s remarks over supposed erosion of democracy in India are being discussed and debated. 

This memorandum, submitted by a delegation of J&K-based opposition parties, points out that the ECI has not conducted J&K assembly elections in the last four years and that this may only strengthen the idea that India democracy may indeed be in peril. 

The coming together of J&K-based parties, and their attempt to seek support from other opposition parties spread across India, therefore, assumes special significance in the current political environment.

The renewed energy shown by the parties of J&K is particularly noticeable when the Congress and the BJP have been at loggerheads over Rahul Gandhi’s remarks over the alleged erosion of Indian democracy. Gandhi’s remarks in the UK have triggered the BJP to carry out a concerted campaign against the Congress in parliament and outside. The saffron party has demanded an apology, even as the Congress has categorically ruled out giving one. Instead, the Congress is viewing the BJP’s campaign as an instrument to deflect attention from the Adani controversy that has put the Union government in a soup

A large section of opposition forces has shown political intent in the parliament to corner the Union government. It has been demanding a JPC or a judicial probe over allegations of cronyism against the Narendra Modi government in the aftermath of the furore created by the Hindenburg report alleging stock manipulation by Adani Enterprises. Although they differ on various counts, many opposition parties have stood together in sending out the message that the Adani group’s meteoric rise over the last decade could not have been possible without partisan assistance from the Modi government. 

In this context, the joint front of J&K parties boosts the prospects of a larger opposition front in the making. The Union government and the Election Commission of India’s failure to hold assembly elections since the last four years in J&K, even as it has conducted local body elections peacefully, may only strengthen Gandhi’s criticism that democracy is at risk in India and that many public institutions, including the ECI, have ceased to remain autonomous. 

Also read: Jammu & Kashmir Today Signals the Collapse of Manipulation

The three-page memorandum was signed by not only a range of J&K-based parties including rivals like National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party but also the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Aam Aadmi Party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, CPI(M) and others. 

It alleged that in the absence of assembly elections over the last five years, the central bureaucracy has had a free run in administering the affairs of the UT. This, the opposition parties say, has caused multiple problems and is unconstitutional.

Arguing that the ECI can’t delay the assembly elections further, it pointed out that the same ECI has successfully conducted panchayat elections in J&K but that it could not stand as a substitute for assembly elections. Any argument that panchayat elections could substitute assembly elections is “inherently specious,” the memorandum said. 

It also said that the representatives of the Modi government, including the Union home minister Amit Shah, has said more than once that the final call to conduct assembly elections will be taken by the ECI. In seeking an explanation from the ECI for the delay in conducting elections, the memorandum effectively indicated that the ECI could not take an autonomous decision without the consent of the Modi government – again reaffirming Gandhi’s view that democratic institutions are under attack during Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial tenure.

“The ECI is under constitutional obligation to hold assembly elections in J&K and delay in and denial of the assembly elections would amount to denial of fundamental and democratic rights of the people of J&K and a breach of constitutional obligations,” the memorandum said, urging the ECI to notify elections without any delay so that “democratic rights” of people and their “access to democratic institutions” are “restored”. 

The memorandum surely points towards an understanding among J&K parties that the Union government has slighted democratic standards in the UT through its various decisions. The same understanding is shared by parties like AAP that have been hitting out at the Union government for illegally restricting the Delhi government’s work. 

Similarly, Bharat Rashtra Samithi has also alleged that the Union government is willingly trying to prevent its development work in Telangana. Other parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress, DMK, and those in the Left frequently accuse the Modi government of targeting opposition leaders by slapping allegedly false cases or reopening decades-old cases against them. That the Modi government has been misusing central investigation agencies is an accusation that most opposition parties have frequently and unitedly made against the BJP and the Union government.

Against such a backdrop, the J&K memorandum to the ECI may only strengthen the opposition’s accusations and may trigger a fresh discussion on diminishing democratic standards in India – and Rahul Gandhi may not be the only leader speaking about it.