J&K: From conflict zone to symbol of good governance; autonomy, self-rule slogans become obsolete

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), infamous for being a “conflict zone”, has become a symbol of good governance in the country after the abrogation of Article 370, a temporary provision in the Indian Constitution.

After August 5, 2019 — when the Centre announced its decision to scrap J&K’s special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories — Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led regime without creating any hype, developed roads, health, tourism and other infrastructure to make the lives easy for people in the Himalayan region.

Very importantly, the government was able to create safe and secure environment without any fear of terrorists and stone-pelters, who used to take people hostage by disrupting their normal lives.

As peace has returned, the Centre has decided to hold Assembly elections in the Union Territory. Union Home Minister Amit Shah during his recent visit to J&K announced that polls in the Himalayan region would be held soon. There is every possibility that elections in J&K will be held early next year.

What would parties sell?

Political parties, including National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have started making preparations to jump in the poll fray. But the big question is what would these parties sell? Their slogans of autonomy and self-rule have become obsolete in “Naya Jammu and Kashmir” as people have realised that for 70 years they were just fed with slogans. They are least interested in rhetoric as they have experienced what good governance means.

As on date, J&K is moving on the path of peace, prosperity and development.  Mainstream politicians, who used to claim that J&K’s accession with India was not permanent, have become irrelevant.

These politicians are making yet another attempt to mislead the people by telling them that they would reverse the clock to August 4, 2019, and bring everything back. But someone needs to tell them that no one in J&K is interested in getting anything back.

People of J&K have endorsed the bold move of Prime Minister Modi-led dispensation to end the 70-year-old long status-quo and merge the Himalayan region into the Union of India completely.

Omar, Mehbooba to stay away from polls

Elections in J&K are on cards and without raising slogans politicians can’t lure the voters. Former J&K Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah has announced that he won’t contest the polls till J&K’s statehood is restored, another former Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, too, has dropped enough hints about her staying away from the elections.

This means that NC and PDP want their second-rung leaders to become a part of the electoral process as they have realised that winning won’t be a cakewalk as it used to be in the past. Seeking restoration of J&K seems to be a face-saving measure as top leaders losing the elections could be a big setback for both the traditional parties in Kashmir.

Emergence of political formations like Altaf Bukhari-led Apni Party, Ghulam Nabi Azad-led Democratic Azad Party, Sajad Lone-led People’s Conference and others in Kashmir, too, have made things difficult for the NC and PDP. Both these parties are facing a daunting task.

Traditional parties which ruled J&K for 70 years couldn’t do much for the people as their leaders used to claim that Articles 370 and 35-A were shields which protected the identity and rights of people. Their narrative and politics revolved around safeguarding these articles.

However, time has proven them wrong. After the abrogation of these contentious articles one thing has become very clear that these provisions were nothing but big impediments in the path of progress and prosperity of J&K.

Poll preparations commence

Preparations for holding elections have commenced in J&K as the revision of electoral roll is in its final stages. The officials who will be a part of the exercise are being briefed about the duties they would be expected to perform. Deputy Commissioners are meeting the representatives of the political parties to give a final shape to the preparations.

Political parties are also holding rallies and are making an attempt to reach out to the people. But the common residents are not responding in a way they should have. They seem to have their own reasons. For them J&K’s transition into a Union Territory and the Centre managing the affairs directly has proven to be a blessing.

The projects which were in limbo for the past 70 years have either been completed or are nearing completion. The Jammu-Srinagar National Highway is all set to become four-lane within next two years, the train to Kashmir is not that far away. The 500-bed children hospital in Srinagar which remained caught in different wrangles for nearly a decade has been thrown open for people. The electricity woes have ended. Unemployment issue stands addressed, and many other problems that were a part of lives for seven decades have been addressed.

Political parties face uphill task

Common people are asking political parties a simple question: what new they have to offer and even if they vote for them what’s the guarantee that they would continue the good work that the Centre has started?

Elections are an important part of any democratic setup and sooner or later these are going to be held in J&K. The ball is in the court of the political parties which have to contest the polls and become a part of the governance system. These political formations face an uphill task to convince the electorate that they would serve them and won’t give them a reason to complain.

In the Jammu region the political scenario is different. The Congress is struggling to regain its foothold as the veteran leader and former J&K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has said goodbye to the grand old party of the country. He has floated his own party. Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party is not finding any takers in Jammu region.

Bharatiya Janata Party, which won 27 seats in 2014 Assembly elections in Jammu, seems to be better placed than other political formations. Elections in Jammu region will be contested between the national parties as regional parties are non-existent.

The redrawing of Assembly constituencies has brought Jammu region at par with Kashmir vis-a-vis distribution of the Assembly seats and people of Jammu are seeing the forthcoming polls as a golden opportunity to see a leader from their region becoming a J&K Chief Minister for the first time since 1947.

The maiden Assembly elections in the Union Territory of J&K are a litmus test for the political leaders of all parties as the administration led by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has set new benchmark. People are expecting that whenever the politicians assume the office they should be able to live upto their expectations and build on the foundation laid by LG Sinha.

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