By Sushant Sareen
Six months after the PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions, and Governor’s Rule was imposed in the state, the baton for running the government has now passed on to the President of India.
President’s Rule doesn’t really change anything on the ground in terms of the administrative arrangements or political control, because the governor continues to run the affairs of the state with the backing of the central government.
It is therefore, only a constitutional transition to the next stage – elections to the state assembly – before an elected government is back in office.
Governor’s Rule ‘Got Things Done’
The last six months have been very eventful. A new governor assumed office and started to shake things up. On the security front, the governor gave a relatively free hand to the security forces to conduct their anti-terror operations.
Freed from the shackles imposed by politicians who wanted to play on both sides of the wicket, the security forces got significant successes in eliminating some of the top terrorists in the state. On the administrative front, too, things started moving, and the drift and sloth that dogged the administration under the political government seemed to change.
Ironically, all of this should have been done by elected politicians, but wasn’t.
The most significant developments were however on the political front. The escalating spiral of violence had more or less brought the political process to a grinding halt. Political leaders and workers had gone into virtual hibernation. Although the assembly existed – it was kept in suspended animation – the political class was nowhere to be seen.
Governor’s Top Job: Kickstarting Political Process
The governor kickstarted the political process by announcing the local body polls that had been inordinately delayed by the elected political government, which was reluctant to devolve power to the grassroots.
Initially, there was a lot of scepticism about the usefulness of these elections, more so after the two main Kashmir parties – NC and PDP – boycotted the elections. But the governor called their bluff and refused to give in to the political blackmail by both these parties.
Although the voting percentages were very low in some parts of the Valley, a new crop of politicians came to the fore. Suddenly the big two realised that the political ground was shifting under their feet and their boycott had ceded political space to new rivals – Sajjad Lone in particular – to establish themselves.
Worse, their boycott allowed the BJP to win wards and even capture municipal bodies in the Valley, something that would have been impossible, even unthinkable, if the NC and PDP had been in the fray. The fear of political marginalisation, even irrelevance, forced these parties to participate in the Panchayat polls in which the voter turnouts rose appreciably.
Fresh Elections, New Hopes
But the political process that has been set off has caused a flux and forced major political realignments. The PDP is caught between a rock and a hard place. There are major rumblings within the party and there has been a steady trickle of desertions from its ranks.
Coupled with the looming split in the party is the fact that its bastion – South Kashmir – is the epicentre of the violent convulsions in the Valley, meaning that PDP has lost a lot of political ground and political capital. The NC too is feeling the pinch. This is what prompted the big two to close ranks and rope in the Congress to make a pitch for forming the next government, thereby pre-empting a possible move by Sajjad Lone to stake claim of a majority with the backing of disaffected legislators of PDP and the support of BJP.
The political drama of competing claims finally led to the dissolution of the assembly in the last week of November.
With the assembly dissolved and the state now under President’s Rule, the stage is set for new elections, which will most likely be held with the parliamentary polls in mid-2019.
Given the stakes involved, everyone can rest assured that there will be no boycott of the assembly or parliamentary elections, other than by the usual suspects who have no stake in the system – the separatists, terrorists and others of their ilk and persuasion.
The turnouts might not be as high as in the past polls, but they will be reasonably healthy. That is the good news.
A Polarised J&K
The bad news is that it is unlikely that the elections will lead to a more stable political situation. In fact, there is a good chance that the elections will throw up a verdict that deepens the uncertainty and instability in the state. Worse, the political class has shown no sign that it has the vision and a plan to pull the state out of the morass in which it finds itself, much less answers and solutions to the daily problems of the people.
The reason for pessimism is the multi-level fragmentation of politics in the state. Jammu and Kashmir is today split not just along communal lines, but also along regional lines and even sub-regional lines. Some of these divisions are old – for instance, the Hindu versus Muslim versus Buddhist split, and the Jammu versus Kashmir versus Ladakh split.
But increasingly there are new lines of fragmentation that have appeared – the north vs central vs south Kashmir split; the Hindu-dominated vs Muslim-dominated districts split in Jammu region; the Kargil vs Leh split in Ladakh.
Against the backdrop of this multiple-level fragmentation of politics, the chances of getting a government that aggregates and represents various interests appears unlikely.
In fact the last such attempt – the Kashmir-centred PDP aligning with the Jammu-centred BJP – didn’t work out very well. And if the attempt to form a Valley-centred government – PDP, NC and Congress – had succeeded, it too would have only alienated Jammu and Ladakh and worsened the political disaffection in those parts.
In the next assembly, the odds are that the political equations will be even more complicated. If the local body and panchayat polls are any indication, then the mandate in the Valley will be split four ways – between Sajjad’s People’s Conference, the NC, PDP and the Congress. The Jammu verdict too will be split with BJP and Congress taking the lion’s share and other parties picking up a handful of seats.
Even if the politicians somehow manage to get around the fragmented polity and form a government, they will have to run the government.
This will not be easy because of their shenanigans – flirtation with militants, the wink and nudge to mobs, the ambivalent positions on the violence that is wreaking havoc in the Valley, their double-speak and double games on militancy – which have muddied the waters in Kashmir.
What Kashmir needs desperately is someone who can pull the state out of the vicious vortex; what Kashmir will probably get is more of the same after the elections.
Kashmir has not been failed by India as much as it has been failed by Kashmiri leaders. That is the tragedy of Kashmir, and it won’t end with another election.
This article originally appeared in The Quint.