The BJP has won 60 municipal wards unopposed in the urban local body election of Jammu and Kashmir. The result comes after two main regional parties of the state — National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party — decided to boycott the polls in protest.
ThePrint asks– BJP wins 60 seats in Kashmir: Opposition boycott undermining democracy or letting BJP grow?
BJP should not have any false sense of well-being
Leader, Peoples Democratic Party
“The world must be made safe for democracy,” Woodrow Wilson said. A parallel can be drawn with this to the way the panchayat and ULB elections are being ‘forced’ in Kashmir.
The ‘security scenario’ has always been the first on every government’s check-list to determine the possibility of holding elections in Kashmir. Recently, we were told that the Anantnag seat could not go to polls as the situation does not permit so, elections were held for the Srinagar seat and the abysmal participation was there for all to see. It is no secret that the security scenario has worsened over the last few months, a fact acknowledged by the BJP itself, then how was one supposed to say ‘yes’ for participating in elections at the grass-root level? The PDP or any of the mainstream parties need no certificate for having upheld the highest principles of democracy. Every political party in Kashmir has lost members in the constant quest to keep the democracy flourishing. Having said that, the PDP understands the situation on ground and foresees the risk as well as the lack of interest these elections bring along.
The stand (of not participating) in these elections is vindicated by the way things are turning out. BJP winning seats unopposed should not give them any false sense of well-being. What it shows is the fear as well as the utter lack of interest amongst the people. Is it not a reason to worry? Is it not what we said will happen? The whole process looks like a sham when you have to offer life insurance to people who might want to contest when you have to hide them at unknown places, when you cannot find enough people to even contest these elections. To me, this is sheer desperation and does not (in any manner) help build democratic institutions in the Valley, it belittles and dilutes them.
Opposition decision to boycott elections nothing but excuse to grow closer to separatists
BJP spokesperson, Jammu and Kashmir
The opposition parties, namely PDP and NC, which also happen to be the regional parties of the state have betrayed the masses tremendously. This was an opportunity for them to provide governance to the people at a micro level. But they didn’t wish to do so. They chose to boycott the elections in order to grow closer to the separatists. The excuse they used was the issue of Article 35A, but that was merely a façade. The decision on the legitimacy of article 35A lies with the Supreme Court, not with some government. Then by boycotting the municipal elections, are they trying to build pressure on the Supreme Court?
The opposition parties which boycotted the elections were expecting the elections to get cancelled. But because of the resolve of the central government that didn’t happen, and this has unnerved them. Many of their leaders have chosen to contest independently. The NC and PDP will now quietly go back to contesting in the upcoming panchayat elections, as they have realised that their threats to boycott make no difference.
The BJP has made enormous headway in the state in the past 4 years. This has translated in the votes we receive and the popular support we enjoy. Whether or not the opposition parties boycotted the elections, we would have done well. Of course, this move of theirs has benefitted us enormously. This is a huge victory for us and now we have to stand true to the expectations of the people.
BJP is trying hard to gain mileage out of the deteriorating situation in Valley
President, Jammu and Kashmir Congress
Let me make it clear that the Congress has won more seats unopposed than the BJP during the third phase of nominations in the ULB elections in the state, especially in Kashmir. The last date of withdrawal of nominations for the fourth phase is yet to come. You will see the outcome will be more transparent. I feel highly confident that the Congress party will get a big share in the upcoming ULB elections.
It is an established fact that the BJP is trying very hard to gain mileage out of the deteriorating situation in the Valley. It is also evident that the BJP has managed to import candidates from outside. It took advantage of the boycott by regional parties like PDP, NC and others. I say with confidence that the BJP, while taking advantage of the extremely volatile situation and the threat to local candidates in these areas, fielded imported candidates to ensure that they get some wards uncontested. The boycott of elections certainly has given space to BJP to win some wards (unopposed), but I do not think it will work.
I admit that we too could not field candidates in some areas due to the deteriorating situation. The boycott by regional parties added more confusion to the situation. The Congress fielded local and potential party candidates despite bearing the brunt of the worsening situation and threat to their lives and property.
The Congress Party from day one has been saying that the situation was not conducive for conducting ULB elections. We strongly urged both the state and Centre on various occasions to reconsider the decision of conducting the ULB elections. Despite our concern, the elections were announced in haste. We remain committed to facing the upcoming challenges.
NC will not allow any encroachment on Jammu and Kashmir
Leader, National Conference
The idea, practice and concept of democracy is too deep to be only tied to elections. Democracy also means choice and the freedom to exercise this choice.
The National Conference has chosen to exercise its choice within the larger framework of democracy to make a point: We will not allow any encroachment on Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and we want the Centre to make its stance clear regarding Article 35A. Article 35A is a constitutional guarantee to the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh for preserving their distinct identity and dignity, irrespective of religion or caste. So, besides re-engineering the demography of the state, the absence of Article 35A would rob Jammu and Kashmir’s youth of jobs, scholarships and avenues of growth and prosperity which the National Conference would not only not accept, but also resist.
We are in the best spirit of democracy exercising our right, through protest. Therefore the question of undermining democracy does not arise. Being the party that has organic roots in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference’s not participating carries weight. We are a party that aspires to reflect and articulate the people’s aspirations and protect their interests. We have never said to boycott elections nor are we running any election boycott campaign. We made our decision not to contest, which reaffirms the NC’s commitment to protecting the state’s interest and identity, and we have not spoken against anyone who is contesting – they are free to do so.
The issue raised by many that our boycott creates space for the BJP is a moot one. The BJP’s electoral victory in the ULB elections will be an artificial victory because it neither has roots in Kashmir nor is it acceptable to the people.
Today, we have people from the BJP who don’t live in Kashmir but are getting elected unopposed- if this doesn’t tell you the story of total disillusionment amongst the people and how wrong the assessment of New Delhi is, nothing will.
Credibility of elections has already been lost in the eyes of the people of Kashmir
Professor, Central University of Kashmir
In Kashmir, democracy has operated under troubled circumstances always. In 1953, when Sheikh Abdullah was removed from government, the popular voices in Kashmir began to boycott elections. A vibrant democracy was reinstated in 1975 when Sheikh Abdullah returned to power. Ever since the 1990s, however, there has never been a proper and full-fledged election in Kashmir. There are routine calls for boycotts of the elections and the number of mainstream parties in the state has also considerably reduced. If and when elections were held, they saw lesser footfall each time.
Perhaps the 2013-2014 parliamentary, as well as state elections, were held in a proper manner. But in the past one or two years, the situation has only become more precarious. The mainstream parties of the state chose to boycott the municipal elections this time. These are parties that are rooted in the state. They understand the mood of the people and they understand the grass root sensibilities better than anyone. Thus, in their own wisdom, they decided to not contest elections. The BJP is contesting, but it isn’t a party rooted in the valley. They knew the chances of their winning are high only because most people would not come out to vote, and they will win unopposed. So, even though elections were held, they ended up undermining democracy because they don’t enjoy the popular support of the people. Thus, the credibility of the elections has already been lost in the eyes of the people.
Election became more of a boycott-versus-polling exercise than a proper democratic process
Special Correspondent, ThePrint
BJP’s victory does not mean much in Kashmir’s current situation except the fact that the party will use every such opportunity in pushing its own line-of-thinking into the Valley.
All the candidates who have been declared winners are uncontested ones. The fact that not even an independent candidate came forward for these wards reflects the grim situation on the ground.
This election became more of a boycott-versus-polling exercise than a proper democratic process.
It is only reminding people about the infamous rigging of 1987 assembly elections in the state.
One must understand that the NDA government and those who supported holding this election amid a boycott by main parties – NC and PDP – said they were doing this in order to hold a democratic process. Let’s ponder what democracy means here. It means giving people a chance to choose their representative. People had no say in choosing the declared winners.
This election was reduced to a BJP-versus-the-rest; the people of Kashmir were not even in the picture.
An example of how this election will fare on the ground is in Shopian where the BJP has won 13 seats uncontested out of 17. Shopian district in south Kashmir has been on a boil for the last two years. Forget working of municipal bodies, people have had no respite from curfews, almost every day there are encounters between militants and security forces.
Democracy will be on display the day the government contains the situation in the real sense by winning the trust of the youth and people in the Valley.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her on twitter @khanthefatima.