Are elections to a prospective assembly in Jammu and Kashmir round the corner?
Many seem to think so, or are projecting such confidence. Like Melville’s Bartleby, “I would prefer not to” agree.
It is my belief that elections will not happen till the time the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) feels certain it will carry the day – and be in a position to instal a non-Muslim chief minister to head the Union territory. Indeed, if this were to happen, the UT may then be upgraded to the status of a state.
Contrarily, were such elections to produce an unlovely surprise, J&K might then either continue to languish as a UT or be reluctantly accorded the same sort of status as Delhi suffers, with an all-powerful lieutenant governor overseeing the exertions of a minion elected government.
It is naïve to believe that the right-wing had gone to the trouble of reading down Article 370 only to see yet another Muslim Kashmiri come back as chief executive. Perish the thought.
I may add that if the head of a friendly King’s party were to be entertaining the prospect that the right-wing would not mind having its own Muslim till its hegemony acquires full sway in the Valley as well, he had better think again.
We may quickly add here that anyone whom a fair and transparent electoral exercise throws up as winner or as chief minister, regardless of religion, should be acceptable to all Kashmiris. But, if the religion of the CM becomes a preconceived agenda, as I fear it is now, then democracy stands vitiated.
The game plan is running aground
So, what are the BJP’s political prospects?
Thus far, as we write, the ruling party’s aspirants may still be whistling in the dark, however pronounced their lung power with respect to claims about “terrific new things happening in the territory”.
When it seems to them that things may be shaping up as they had hoped, we hear of how militancy has been all but liquidated; and when it seems that things may not after all be as rosy as they wish, even in the Jammu region, we hear from them of invidious forms of militancy persisting, making the situation still “not conducive”.
Thus, ruling party rhetoric keeps swinging between egregious claims that all is now “normal”, to how Pakistan is still vitiating the atmosphere, delaying “normalcy”.
Facts and opinion on the ground, often clouded by caution and political self-interest, suggest that the loud-speak of the right-wing may be premature, a reality the right-wing recognises in the privacy of their conclaves.
In the Valley, not just after the elections to the Development Councils but continuously since then, what we see on captive media channels may not be what obtains in the deep throat of the vox populi, tourism notwithstanding.
If you set aside the ruthless propaganda against the ‘dynasts’ and work your way into the nooks and corners where Kashmiris do the real thinking, you may find that the Abdullahs and the Muftis have rather enhanced their credit with the common Kashmiri than they have lost.
It would be a misread to think that the impulse and allegiance to federal autonomy in the state is as dead as we are given to believe.
Underneath their phirans, Kashmiris remain, like so many others in large parts of the republic, deeply attached to their sense of history and to their identity.
And were the Gupkar Alliance indeed to fight as a unit, the wished-for consequences for the ruling BJP may not materialise as fulsomely as it hopes for in any likely electoral contest – and in both regions of the territory.
More significantly, what must be a reckoner for the BJP is the disillusionment of wide sections of Hindus in the Jammu region, with the hollow outcomes, if any, over the last three democracy-less years of central rule.
That even Kashmiri Pandits have now for over a year been berating the ruling BJP for their failure to live up to the promises made clearly bespeaks a damaging new low for the Bhartiya Janata Party’s general credibility as a political dependable.
Indeed it must be galling to hear the Pandits say that whatever was done for them was done by the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime rather than the current one led by the Hindu-Hriday Samrat, Modi.
Indeed, in the Jammu region, the ‘dynastic’ parties and the Congress are still a force to reckon with.
The lay of the land suggests the real possibility that elections to a prospective assembly may be put off as far as the general elections of 2024 if the local unit of the BJP remains unsure of a victory there, so that two years from now another Modi-driven countrywide ‘wave’ may carry Jammu and Kashmir with it.
In the meanwhile, the local state executive will spare no moment to flash images of great nationalistscomebacks of hitherto misled Kashmiri youth, be it in the sports arena, recruitment drives to the forces, sponsored cultural events, enthusing tourist-speak, and so forth.
But it is not to be thought that local rulers of the day are unaware of the fact that the ground underneath remains slippery, and may remain so despite widely propagated efforts to claim otherwise.
Many Kashmiris who retain a deep allegiance to federalism and democracy can be heard to say what has been lost after August 5, 2019 was not so bad after all.
Many also say with Shakespeare’s Macduff, “Do the heavens look on and not take their part?”