Yearning for change: On Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh going to the polls

The opposition in Kashmir and Ladakh are united in their aims, not electorally

May 06, 2024 12:30 am | Updated 12:30 am IST

Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, the Union Territories bifurcated from the legacy border State of J&K, are among the few States/UTs where polling is taking place across many phases. The constituencies in Jammu have already voted in the first and second phases while elections have been postponed from the third to the sixth phase in the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency. While the turnout in Udhampur (68.27%) and Jammu (72.22%) were encouraging and more or less in line with the participation figures of 2019, it would be an achievement for Indian democracy if voters turned out in good numbers in constituencies in the Kashmir Valley. The turnout figures for Srinagar (14.43%), Anantnag (8.49%) and Baramulla (34.6%) were among the lowest in the country. This was largely due to a sense of disillusionment among the electorate over the dissolution of the erstwhile State’s Assembly. Since 2019, the Valley has been subject to persistent central rule that has led to phases of severe repression followed by attempts to rejig its polity and electoral map. The abrogation of special status for the erstwhile State and the continuance of J&K as a UT have not helped reverse the alienation. But the polls could provide a platform for the disenchanted electorate to air their grievances in the form of a decisive mandate.

The enduring distrust between the Kashmiri polity and New Delhi also explains why the traditional parties in the former have sought to oppose the postponement of the polls in the Anantnag-Rajouri seat, ostensibly due to weather conditions. But the mainstream Kashmiri polity including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) that came together with others to form the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration could not unite and contest as one in the Lok Sabha elections. The NC and PDP have revived their political hostilities in the Valley; the former is in alliance with the Congress as part of the INDIA bloc. As for the Bharatiya Janata Party, its triumphal talk of “unifying” the country by abrogating J&K’s special status sounds hollow: it has limited its contest to the Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-majority Ladakh. In Ladakh, the campaign led by activist Sonam Wangchuk has brought the question of Statehood and environmental concerns to the fore. But that has not been enough to rev up the Opposition. The Congress and NC could not come up with a consensus candidate for the Ladakh constituency that includes the Leh and Kargil areas, leading to the Congress fielding a candidate from Leh, while the Kargil units of both parties are supporting an independent from that area.

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