Jammu & Kashmir awaits historic Lok Sabha elections after Article 370 abrogation

Parliamentary polls a chance for democratic renewal


March 17, 2024

/ By / New Delhi

Jammu & Kashmir awaits historic Lok Sabha elections after Article 370 abrogation

Jammu & Kashmir is set to witness its first Lok Sabha elections since the abrogation of Article 370 ( Photo : Farzana Nisar )

With the elections schedule announced by Election Commission, the troubled northern region of Jammu & Kashmir is set to witness its first Lok Sabha elections since the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution in 2019. The elections for the five seats will be held in five phases, starting from April 19. Local political parties are preparing for Parliamentary elections, calling it a chance for renewal, especially of democracy in the region.

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As Jammu & Kashmir prepares to embark on a significant electoral journey, the looming Lok Sabha elections stand as a beacon of hope and opportunity for the erstwhile state since the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution in 2019. After years of political turbulence and administrative changes, this upcoming poll signals a pivotal moment for the residents of the territory to actively shape their future within the Indian democratic framework.

The last assembly election in the undivided Jammu and Kashmir State was held in 2014 when a coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), led by Mehbooba Mufti, formed the government with Mufti as the Chief Minister.

The government fell in June 2018, when the BJP pulled out of the alliance. Since then J&K has been without an elected government. After the abrogation of special status and downgrading of J&K into the two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh in August 2019, the region came under the Centre’s control through a lieutenant governor.

In December 2023, the Supreme Court gave a ‘mandatory suggestion’ that the assembly polls in J&K should happen by September 2024.

But the Lok Sabha elections, slated to be held by May are the first opportunity for the local populace to pronounce its verdict on the developments in the erstwhile state and also an occasion for democratic renewal of Jammu and Kashmir.

Neelofar Masood

Hence, the Lok Sabha elections are poised to be intriguing, with the BJP set to contest all five seats, while the JKNC has also opted to contest all five seats independently, even though it is part of the INDIA alliance that groups together about two dozen opposition parties at the national level. Initially, there were six Lok Sabha seats in J&K, but following the abrogation, only five remain Baramulla, Srinagar, Anantnag, Udhampur, and Jammu.

“INDIA alliance is already with three seats of JKNC and this alliance is made to keep away BJP and we have proposed and claimed to contest on three seats in alliance and on other three seats of Jammu and ladakh we intend to support alliance to keep BJP out,” Neelofar Masood, president of Baramulla district women’s wing of JKNC tells Media India Group.

“I’m puzzled by the confusion surrounding the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD). It is not an electoral alliance, it was formed in 2019, to unite against the abrogation of Article 370. Our unity was meant to resist that decision and Lok Sabha elections hold great significance for Jammu & Kashmir, marking the beginning of a new era. We anticipate positive transformations in Kashmir through this election, hoping for significant changes to unfold in our region,” she adds.

The Lok Sabha elections are not merely a political event, as the election symbolises a fresh start, a chance for the territory to redefine its trajectory within the Indian democratic structure. The polls are expected to bring forth diverse voices, reflecting the rich cultural tapestry and pluralism that defines the region.

Shiekh Aamir

“Assembly elections should have been prioritised. However, it seems the BJP fears facing the reality of their diminished support in Jammu & Kashmir post-abrogation. Despite claims of development, Kashmiris vividly recall the injustices they have endured. While development is welcomed, rampant unemployment persists, leaving people disillusioned. What good is development when it fails to address the fundamental need for jobs? The rising unemployment rate exacerbates the plight of Kashmiris,” Sheikh Aamir, Spokesperson for J&K Congress tells Media India Group.

“People have the right to vote, a right long denied to Kashmiris. Despite this injustice, Kashmiris are well-informed and know whom to support when they finally have the chance to cast their votes,” he adds.

The opposition parties claim that the ruling BJP is worried about its prospects so much that it has reorganised Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies in an attempt to reduce the impact of people’s unhappiness with the Centre.

“The Indian Government is playing with us as the Rajouri and Poonch districts, earlier making part of the Jammu Lok Constituency, are now part of the Anantnag-Rajouri seat, while the Reasi district has been delinked from the Udhampur seat and added to Jammu constituency, they think by doing this they will win the election but they are wrong and  the government also held District Development Councils elections, which, in my opinion, were of no use,” Aamir adds.

In the fall of 2020, the Indian administration conducted elections to District Development Councils. The existing rules provided for a limited electoral college for the DDCs comprising the chairpersons of Block Development Councils and presidents of municipalities. However, the rules were quickly changed to call elections through universal adult suffrage. This was the first test of stability and the political sentiment post the abrogation of Article 370.

Local politicians are adamant about preventing any national party from winning in Kashmir. They also accuse the Centre of delaying the Assembly elections as they fear defeat.

“The Indian government’s insecurity is evident in their reluctance to hold Lok Sabha and Assembly elections simultaneously in Jammu and Kashmir, fearing they won’t win. Despite their claims that there is too much instability for holding the two elections simulataneously, the situation in Kashmir is perfectly normal. Finally, after years of waiting, Lok Sabha elections are on the horizon. Kashmiris are well aware of whom to support at the ballot box,” Mohit Bhan, Spokesperson of PDP, tells Media India Group.

Mohit Bhan

Bhan explains why it is important to hold the two polls together. “I believe that conducting Lok Sabha elections and assembly elections separately would disrupt economic activities, particularly tourism in Jammu and Kashmir. It is essential to hold these elections together to minimise any negative impact on our region’s economy, and elections hold immense significance for Jammu and Kashmir. They provide a platform for our issues to be raised and addressed in Parliament, ensuring our voices are heard and our concerns are considered,” he adds.

The local political parties say that the government is separating the elections as it feels that the outcome of the Lok Sabha polls can have a serious impact on the voting pattern in the subsequent assembly elections and the local body polls.

Nonetheless, the people of Jammu & Kashmir, who have previously abstained from voting, eagerly await elections to exercise their right to select their government. This shift reflects a growing desire for participation in governance processes and a recognition of the importance of democratic representation.

“Since the abrogation, this upcoming election holds immense significance for us. We have eagerly awaited this opportunity to stand up for our rights and elect our government. As a student, I am ready to cast my vote. We Kashmiris are united in our resolve to support our local parties; we won’t allow Indian parties to win at any cost,” Khalid Mudasir a student from Baramulla tells Media India Group.

With the Election Commission announcing that the Assembly polls can not be held simultaneously with Lok Sabha, the predictions of local parties about BJP’s readiness to face elections in the territory seem to have come true. But now with a few weeks to go before Jammu and Kashmir turns out to vote for one of the most important elections in its history, the political parties, local and national, will now be busy seeking to win over the voters.



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