• Javaid Malik
  • Publish Date: Sep 17 2018 2:54AM
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  • Updated Date: Sep 17 2018 2:54AM

Threat to Article 35A and Government of India announcing municipal and panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir have shaken the Kashmir based political parties to the core.

Speaking from the ramparts of Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his August 15 speech said the people from Jammu and Kashmir have been requesting him to conduct municipal and panchayat polls. “Every villager from Jammu and Kashmir for the past one year has been demanding that these polls should be held without any delay. The panchs met me in hundreds and they have only one demand that panchayat elections should be held in the state. It is stalled for some time, but I am happy that elections will be held over the next few months and people will get to exercise their right,” he said. Soon after the Prime Minister’s announcement the process to hold panchayat and municipal elections was set in motion in J&K and the polls were announced.

Peoples Democratic Party MLA Javed Hussain Beigh, who recently returned to the party fold after participating in a rebellion against the PDP leadership, told the Kashmir Ink that BJP has choked the political space for the political parties in Kashmir. “Prime Minister Modi linking panchayat and municipal polls with country’s Kashmir policy without any homework shocked the mainstream parties in the Valley,” he said. “No deliberations were held with the politicians before announcing these polls. Announcement was made just on the advice of a few bureaucrats, who have got nothing to do with the election process.” 

Beigh said that state and central government “added insult to the injuries” of the political parties by telling the Supreme Court that it can take a final call on the issue of Article 35A after panchayat and municipal polls are held. “The statement of the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval that J&K’s separate constitution was an aberration has put question mark on the survival of mainstream politics in Kashmir. All efforts are being put to make mainstream parties irrelevant in the Valley. It’s unfortunate,” he added.

He said that if these (panchayat and municipal) elections are held it would split the state. “These polls will be held in Jammu and Ladakh but won’t have any relevance in Kashmir. These elections seem to be part of the plan to divide the state,” Beigh claimed.

Senior PDP leader and former finance minister Syed Muhammad Altaf Bukhari also lashed out at the BJP leadership for what he said displaying an utter “disregard” to elected representatives and “dishonoring” democratic institution like Legislative Assembly in Jammu and Kashmir.  “Now boasting about decentralization of powers to grassroots level through an electoral exercise that can’t be held in an atmosphere of political uncertainty in Kashmir is preposterous and unreasonable proposition,” Bukhari said. 

He said the objective of devolution of power can’t be achieved at a time when people of Jammu and Kashmir are fraught with efforts being made to muzzle their special political identity by fiddling with Article 35-A and other rights guaranteed under the constitution. “After subverting the democratic process by showing scant regard for an elected government, BJP is now trying to scratch the wounded psyche of the people by pushing them for untimely municipal and panchayat elections,” Bukhari observed.

BJP’s state spokesperson Khalid Jehangir accused the PDP and National Conference of using Article 35A as a tool to “blackmail” the Centre. “They fear that there is a common threat to the concept of dynasty rule in Jammu and Kashmir. PDP and NC should introspect rather than indulging in rhetoric,” he said.

National Conference was the first party to announce that it would boycott the panchayat and municipal elections in the state. NC president Dr Farooq Abdullah had made it clear that his party would stay away from the exercise which, he said, was announced without taking Kashmir based parties into confidence. He asked the Government of India to clear its stand on Article 35A before asking the parties to jump into the poll fray.

NC vice-president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah is of the opinion that panchayat and municipal elections cannot be simply used to delay proceedings against Article 35A in the court. “The GoI has to clear the air,” he said.

The Supreme Court had on August 31 deferred the hearing on petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Article 35A after its three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was informed by attorney-general K.K. Venugopal and additional solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre and J&K government respectively, that in view of the impending eight-phased local body elections and law and order situation in the state, the hearing be deferred.

Another PDP dissenter Abdul Majeed Padder, who was at the forefront to form the new dispensation in the state, has buried the hatchet and returned to the party fold after “realizing” that no government could be formed in J&K at present. “Attempts to form the new government were hit due to the uncertainty over the Article 35-A. No government can be formed till this matter is resolved,” Padder, who represents southern Noorabad constituency in the state assembly, told the Kashmir Ink. 

Padder said that he has sorted out his differences with PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and has “returned home.” “I had never left the party. But I was against a group of four to five people who had hijacked the party agenda. They have been shown the door and I have no issues now.”

The MLA Noorabad said that the process to form the new dispensation in the state stopped on the very day when they sensed that “conspiracies are being hatched” to scrap the Article 35A. “Announcement of panchayat and municipal polls in the state and Jammu based leaders pitching for a chief minister from Jammu led to the entire process coming to a grinding halt,” he said.

The PDP leader said that at present every Kashmir based politician wants to safeguard the Article 35A and Article 370, which are Articles of faith. “If these Articles are done away with it would end the very concept of mainstream politics in Kashmir,” he added. 

“Politicians have realized that if the special status of Jammu and Kashmir is eroded further it would end their careers as they would be left with nothing to sell,” said an analyst.  

He said that people sitting in New Delhi should revisit their Kashmir policy otherwise they would lose the people who represented them in Kashmir. 

Former deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Kavinder Gupta tried to “downplay” the developments which have taken place in the recent days. “Article 35A has got nothing to do with the government formation in J&K. The process has come to halt due to forthcoming municipal and panchayat polls.”

Gupta said that one or two PDP rebels returning to the party hardly makes a difference. “We have got nothing to do with them. In fact no one had approached them with any offer. The process of government formation will recommence soon after the municipal and panchayat polls end. There are many likeminded legislators who want new dispensation to be formed,” the former deputy chief minister said.