Editorial

No show: on J&K local polls

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The poor turnout in the Valley for local polls is a wake-up call for the Centre

In elections held in Jammu and Kashmir, the turnout itself is a kind of verdict. The fact that just over a third of the electorate (35.1% provisionally) turned out to vote in the four-phase urban local body elections is a wake-up call to the Union government. The extremely low turnout in the Kashmir region — only 6.7% of those eligible voted in the first three phases, and 4.2% in the fourth phase — reflects the level of disconnect in the Valley. The turnout was not expected to be high, given the boycott by the two main regional parties, the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party. Their immediate protest was over the legal challenge in the Supreme Court to Article 35(A) of the Constitution that accords special powers to the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to decide who are the “permanent residents” of the State and on whom special rights and privileges can be conferred. Given the boycott by these two parties and others, there was little political mobilisation in the Valley. In Jammu, where both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have a strong base and where issues such as Article 35(A) don’t have as much resonance, there was greater participation. The absence of any viable political competition in the local body polls in the Valley will only undermine the institutions and the victors. This dismal turnout comes against a particularly fraught timeline in Kashmir. With the collapse of the PDP-BJP coalition government in June this year, the absence of Kashmiri parties from the fray could heighten alienation at the street level.

The reversal is discouraging as voter turnouts had increased significantly in this decade, growing ever since the mid-1990s. Even between periods of intense protests, Assembly and parliamentary elections saw increased turnouts despite boycott calls by separatist groups. This indicated a willing acceptance of the need to engage in electoral democracy to address civic concerns even if there were substantive differences and anger with the State and Central governments over issues such as security, human rights violations and the status of J&K. The inability of the PDP-BJP government to come up with a coherent response to the unrest and protests that raged in 2016-17, and the subsequent imposition of Governor’s Rule have only exacerbated matters. The work of the Centre’s interlocutor, Dineshwar Sharma, to carry forward a dialogue with various groups and individuals in the State has also not been enough to arrest misgivings in the Valley. The Centre must see the lack of participation in the polls in the Valley as a serious sign of alienation among the people and double down on ways to forge greater engagement. Misguided steps taken to reverse the special status of J&K might appeal to the BJP’s core constituency, but are bound to have a serious fallout in the Valley.

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2019 3:40:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/no-show/article25252371.ece

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