“Holding elections is not the solution”
The power of holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir has always fully remained in the hands of the central government. People in the center can decide whenever they want. Even before the abrogation of article 370, the central government has been dictating its terms with successive elected governments in the erstwhile state. I think the establishment of DDC is good for development, in a way. But we have seen how funds are misused even at the grassroots level. This time it means something different for major political parties of J-K. But I think these elections are more about Bijli, Sadak, Paani and are not going to solve the unresolved issue. The core issue remains there and that needs to be solved. Holding elections is definitely not the solution.
The DDC elections will not have much impact on the people as such. Because people vote for issues like electricity, construction of roads, drinking water, etc. The elections in J-K are more about providing basic facilities. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying hard to make a footmark in Kashmir. They see the DDC elections as icing on the cake. The establishment of DDCs is also aimed at keeping existing regional political parties like National conference (NC) and Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (JKPDP) away from politics, cut their dominance in the state, and pave a way for a new party as per the interests and standings of India’s ruling party. It’s an attempt to find alternative politics.
Interestingly, even in the Kashmir valley, the newly formed alliance, a conglomeration of J-K, and a few national-level mainstream political parties were forced to declare their participation in the DDC elections, despite their contrary stand on fighting for assembly and parliament elections in view of the changes made to article 370.
The BJP and newly formed Apni party – led by Altaf Bukhari, will be the natural beneficiaries if the other political parties in Kashmir boycott the DDC elections, which can further cascade effect on the upcoming assembly elections. This has happened in previous panchayat elections in the year 2018. At that time, both the political parties NC and PDP had sought assurances from the Modi government on the safeguarding of Article 370 and 35A. The poll boycott by both the parties had given a walkover to the BJP in the Panchayat elections, and the saffron party managed to install its Panches and Sarpanches at various places in the valley.
This time the announcement to contest elections was a little unexpected for the fact that some of the leaders had already declared that they would not contest any elections till the restoration of Statehood and 370. I feel that the reason behind the decision to fight the DDC polls is more about preventing the BJP from winning these elections. And in a way, it’s good for them not to boycott the DDC elections. Boycotting would be a wise decision, neither for them nor for the common people. It’s a kind of fight between BJP and the rest of the parties in J-K.
“They will crawl when asked to bend”
Administrator, Srinagar British School
Kashmiris have never really looked upto pro-india politics and the majority usually stays away from any kind of election. The DDC is no different in that case. It is not what Kashmiris aspire for, so elections barely matter to them. After around two dozen back to back administrative and political changes since 2019 and total downgrading of an already powerless assembly, backtracking on it doesn’t make sense. The DDC doesn’t hold power but an illusion of power. Though we are disinterested in pro-india political participation, it does not mean we are misinformed, we do keep an eye on any and every kind of political development that can impact us in one way or the other. The conflict doesn’t provide us the luxury of ignorance.
It will have an impact but not a good one. If you read Palestinian history, after the 1967 war, Israel used the same electoral technique as an apparatus of control, as is being used in Kashmir now. The structures of local leadership were reinforced, manufactured and preserved to carefully delineate the limits of the socio-economic role it was to play. The idea was to limit everybody to their local issues and not allow any other kind of politics. They want to manufacture leaders but do not even trust them at the same time. Tired of cutting down politicians who grow too big for their shoes, they are making sure no such politician arises, especially a Muslim one. The function of the DDC is totally devoid of politics and only limits itself to municipal issues, just like it was in Palestine.
Most Kashmiris do not see a difference between the two. Look at the history of pro-India politicians. After Sheikh was jailed and J-Ks autonomy eroded, he still accepted the new order and became the chief minister once he was released. The NC was toppled and split by Congress in 1984 yet they still formed an alliance with them. In 2014, Mehbooba Mufti fought the election on the promise of keeping the BJP out of J-K and yet went on to form an alliance with them. It does not matter if they win, at the end, they will crawl when asked to bend.
Kashmir has long lost faith in Indian elections. I do not think they see it as any different from the previous ones; none have ever been taken seriously and have witnessed minimum participation. Elections have always been used to project ‘normalcy’ and a successful return to ‘routine life’ in Kashmir. I see it as a new addition in the controlling apparatus of the Indian state, which is bound to produce its own contradictions and fail. We need to read and understand colonial histories and realities to know how all of these functions. The DDC election may be presented as an important administrative election to outsiders and as well as insiders by the state but a deeper look into the subject reveals it to be something else.
“Kashmiris show disillusionment by not voting”
Literature student, Amar Singh College, Srinagar
The game of elections in Jammu and Kashmir is always interesting. Elections and other political processes are pivotal to the quality of a country’s governance and can either greatly advance or set back a long term democratic country. The most fundamental principle defining credible elections is that it must reflect free expression of the will of the people but the elections under colonialism offer restricted representation without democracy.
India’s central ruling party, the BJP, which won the second term of election with a whopping majority, wedded itself to PDP, and formed a coalition. The election results were foreseen by Kashmiris with anxiety because the fate of Kashmir would have depended upon the complimentary and mutual decisions taken by two different parties, one of which is infamous for anti-muslim sentiments. The tenure held by Mehbooba Mufti was followed by the absolvement of the assembly, the BJP’s control in the region, serving the valley with a jolt of unexpected revocation of 370 and 35A and with massive changes taking place in the bureaucratic and political landscape of J-K. The NC being a Delhi loyalist, with having made three chief ministers, who would never dare jump against Delhi, eventually being incarcerated by the same centre depicts the power dynamics now shared by Kashmir’s political parties and the centre.
The exercise of elections is an important layer of democracy but holding first ever DDC elections in J-K may have strengthened the grass root of democracy. However, conducting these elections during the most difficult and abnormal times points to something else. After remaining locked for over a year, the government is trying to deceive the international community by glimpse of peace and democratic process. And by default trying to resume the political activities at a complete freeze since the dilution of the 370.
A college teacher nicely put it, saying, “Every election here is meant to pull wool over the eyes of Kashmiris and create a smoke screen that everything is fine here. It’s also meant to convey to the world that India is a democracy and Kashmir is a part of this vibrant democracy”.
All the elections overall depend on the participation of the people, and in Kashmir if you turn a garden into a graveyard, can you expect its people to vote enthusiastically? Kashmiris show their disillusionment with the ruling government by not turning up to vote. The United States president Abraham Lincoln in one of his speeches, in 1863, said that “the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” But it has long perished from the land of Kashmir.
“Politics of the DDC needs to be understood in broader terms”
Research Scholar, University of Kashmir
It is always good to have a grassroots democratic set up anywhere but in the current political situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the exercise of conducting these elections is meaningless. This has two basic reasons – one is the fact that the more important parliamentary institutions in J-K, however rotten they were before, have been lying face down in ditches since August 2019. If there is no urgency to restore those “institutions”, I don’t see any point in conducting elections to the DDC.
The second reason is that the DDC representatives, once chosen, would be even more expendable than the politicians, who used to hold much more powerful positions before, and were removed, and even jailed with such gall. So, I think the overall exercise of conducting these elections is one of futility and is in fact more of a show of democracy.
Whether these bodies will work for the good of people, only time can tell. But there have been elections held before in Kashmir on the promise of “development”, and for much more powerful positions. If chief ministers and ministers of the past, with budgets running into billions of rupees, were not able to bring in the kind of “development” that the present administration is promising to bring, what can the DDC members, with much less powers and even lesser budgets, do?
Another important question that needs to be asked here is that who would the DDC members be answerable to? The politics of it also needs to be understood in more broader terms.
See, if there is a democratic set-up, even only for a show, it has to have some sort of structure. This doesn’t work by only choosing and creating bodies such as DDC, without having any kind of overarching parliamentary control over these bodies. The DDC members would be answerable to the LG, or to the bureaucrats, who are not chosen or elected, so how democratically the DDCs would function is anybody’s guess. If the administration wants a truly democratic set-up here, it has to build it bottom-up, and even that would not be enough, considering the political mess Kashmir finds itself in.
As far as their working is concerned, I think in a couple of months it would be quite clear whether the DDC’s have delivered on their promises, whatever they may be.