Table of Contents
THE CONTEXT: The SC upheld the decision to abrogate the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370. At the same time, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court expressly directed that the Election Commission of India (ECI) must conduct elections to the Legislative Assembly of J&K by September 30, 2024.
STATUS OF ELECTIONS IN J&K
- J&K remains among India’s most conflict-prone regions due to historical reasons related to integration of the erstwhile princely State into the Indian Union and later due to accumulated grievances over the conduct of democratic processes.
- Even when periodic and regular elections were conducted during the height of the militancy, participation was limited in many parts of the Valley, denoting the dissatisfaction with the political system.
- However, since the early-mid 2000s when electoral participation improved, and J&K’s citizens began to partake in the democratic process to get their concerns addressed.
- Then again due to agitations and protests by separatists over security policies and later due to steps taken by union government led to the current situation.
- In the last five and a half years, local government elections have been held with varying levels of participation indicating that the citizens in the state have been against the measures that have been implemented since 2018.
- It is welcome step that the Court has set a deadline to conduct the long-delayed elections in J&K, which has been under spells of Governor’s Rule and President’s Rule since 2018 and without a Legislative Assembly.
- Delayed statehood: There is long standing demand of statehood that is being delayed unnecessarily. Even the recent SC judgment does not press the government to restore statehood to the bifurcated Union Territory. It could have directed the Union government to restore statehood by a specified date, as there remains no reason for the continuance of J&K as a Union Territory.
- Democratic process: Jammu and Kashmir has not seen legislative elections for nine years. The last Assembly election took place in 2014, and the last elected administration fell in June 2018. The delay in holding Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir has raised questions about the democratic process in the region. Despite assurances that the administration is ready whenever the Election Commission of India (ECI) decides, the recent announcement of a committee to look into simultaneous State and Union elections suggests that elections are unlikely to happen soon.
- Representation: The recommendations of the Delimitation Commission raised concerns about equal representation, affecting the democratic principle of equal representation. Further complicating matters were changes in residency rules that allowed a significant number of new voters to be added to the existing voter pool. The expansion of reserved seats and the inclusion of more groups in the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes categories could exacerbate competition within these categories. This led to concerns about the denial of democratic rights and constitutional obligations.
- Increasing militancy: Despite steps taken for maintaining peace in the state, political instability, separatism and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism continue to surround the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
THE WAY FORWARD:
- Early conduction of election: By conducting speedy assembly election, it is believed that elected representatives could address issues such as unemployment and land rights more effectively. Holding an Assembly election at the earliest could bring stability in the region.
- Deadline for statehood: As with elections, the Supreme Court should have given a deadline for restoration of statehood too. Restoration of statehood is an important measure as this guarantees a degree of federal autonomy to the province. It allows the elected government to be able to better address the concerns of the electorate than depend on the representatives of the Union government.
- Trust and confidence building: It is crucial to address the concerns and expectations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Delaying the democratic process undermines the region’s confidence in the political system. To build trust and stability, it is essential to ensure that free and fair election while giving representative of the diverse population.
- Outreach programme: Government can mitigate the challenges arising out of action on article 370 by launching a comprehensive outreach programme to all Kashmiris.
- International image: India’s unique selling proposition as a leader in the Global South can only be achieved if it sets precedent for conduct of formal democratic process in the country. It can be done by conflict resolution in places such as Kashmir.
The delay in holding Assembly elections has led to widespread discontent in the region. People are concerned about the shrinking number of their representatives and the potential impact of new reservations on political dynamics. It is time for the restoration of popular government as well as Statehood in J&K and elections should be held at earliest and for that strong political will is required.
PREVIOUS YEAR QUESTIONS
Q.1 To what extent is Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, bearing marginal note “Temporary provision with respect to the State of Jammu and Kashmir”, temporary? Discuss The future prospects of this provision in the context of Indian polity. (2016)
Q.2 The banning of ‘Jamaat-e-islaami’ in Jammu and Kashmir brought into focus the role of over-ground workers (OGWs) in assisting terrorist organizations. Examine the role played by OGWs in assisting terrorist organizations in insurgency affected areas. Discuss measures to neutralize the influence of OGWs. (2019)
MAINS PRACTICE QUESTIONS
Q) The abrogation of Article 370 was the culmination of a “gradual and collaborative exercise” spread over the past 70 years between the Centre and the State to integrate Jammu and Kashmir with the Union. Critically discuss the statement in the light of the SC verdict upholding the abrogation of Art 370.Spread the Word