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Will J&K See Assembly Elections In 2024?

March 07, 2024 13:16 IST

'If Modi is re-elected again, we can forget these things for a long time.'

IMAGE: Jammu and Kashmir National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah speaks at a public rally at Baran villages in Jammu. Photograph: ANI Photo

After many winters of despair, a spring of hope beckons Kashmir. The bright sunny days replacing the frigid 40-day Chilla-i-Kalan have warmed up the Valley's frozen political landscape and sparked a flurry of activities among its politicians.

Mainstream political leaders are busy meeting party workers, holding rallies and conventions across the Union Territory to woo voters.

They are all agog for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, likely to be followed by the eagerly awaited assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir this year.

"We are gearing up for the Lok Sabha polls. We have been meeting people, it's limited mostly to workers," senior Peoples Democratic Party leader Naeem Akhtar told Business Standard.

The former minister of education, however, said he was unsure whether the parliamentary polls would pave the way for assembly elections.

In December, the Supreme Court asked the Election Commission of India to conduct assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir by September this year.

"There have been many Supreme Court decisions which have not been implemented in the past. If they had been serious about it, they could have held them with the Lok Sabha polls. It would have saved effort and people would have got something to look forward to, although I don't have much hope in the new system.

"It will be a helpless, powerless assembly, but even that is perhaps being denied," he said.

"So, I don't see anything happening very soon, and if Prime Minister Narendra Modi is re-elected again, we can forget these things for a long time."

J&K has been without an elected government since June 2018, when the Bharatiya Janata Party withdrew support to the Mehbooba Mufti-led government, citing the deteriorating security situation in the erstwhile state.

Veteran Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami said the Supreme Court's order should be respected and polls should be conducted.

Parliamentary polls are the priority for all stakeholders right now, he said, asserting that while there was "no ambiguity" about the Lok Sabha polls, uncertainty still hovered over the assembly elections.

The four-time MLA from Kulgam hit out at the BJP for its claim of ushering in a period of prosperity in J&K, and said no projects that could generate jobs had been announced.

"We are seeing signs of disappointment even within the Jammu and Ladakh regions, which were otherwise believed to be satisfied with the government's decision to divide the erstwhile state," he told Business Standard.

"The people of Leh are demanding the restoration of statehood, and in Jammu, locals are dissatisfied because they feel their land and jobs have been taken by outsiders."

In Jammu, the BJP's traditional stronghold, poll preparations are in full swing.

"The party is working hard for the parliamentary polls. We will fight on our own in all five seats of Jammu and Kashmir and one seat of Ladakh ... The lotus is blooming in the whole of Jammu and Kashmir and its fragrance is reaching Ladakh," said Ravinder Raina, the BJP's J&K president.

Raina asserted his party will form the next government with its own chief minister in J&K.

Responding to the BJP's claim of forming the government, Tarigami said: "I don't know how the government claims it will win the election without doing anything... They have virtually snatched the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh."

The BJP made significant gains in the Jammu region in the last assembly elections in 2014, winning 25 of the 37 seats.

The party, however, failed to open its account in Kashmir and Ladakh.

Noor Ahmad Baba, a former professor of political science at the Central University of Kashmir, said the BJP was aiming at making political inroads and building its base in the Valley before the polls.

Noting that there was no hindrance to conducting the polls in the Valley, he said a lot would depend on the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections.

"They should have held the polls earlier. People have hopes and expectations. They would prefer an elected government and democracy.

"More importantly, they would want restoration of statehood. But currently, it's the bureaucracy at the central level that is calling the shots," he said.

The assembly polls were last held in J&K in 2014. Since then, the erstwhile state has lost its special status and was bifurcated into two Union Territories -- J&K and Ladakh -- in August 2019, when the Centre made inoperative Article 370 of the Constitution.

Its assembly constituencies were redrawn following the Delimitation Report in 2022.

The undivided J&K had 87 assembly seats, of which 46 were in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu and four in Ladakh.

The new J&K assembly has 90, of which 47 form the Kashmir region and the remaining 43 belong to Jammu.

There are also 24 seats in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, but they remain vacant.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

Meraj Bhat
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