With the publishing of final electoral rolls by the office of Chief Electoral Officer on January 22, the ball has been set rolling officially for the Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The polls are likely to be held across the country in April-May.
As per the Supreme Court directions, the assembly elections are to be held in Jammu and Kashmir by the end of September 30 this year. Elections for panchayat and urban local bodies are also due this year as their five year term has also come to an end. Same is the case with block development councils. In a way 2004 is an election year for Jammu and Kashmir. It is to be seen which polls are actually held and when.
There has been never a delay in the conduct of Lok Sabha polls in Jammu and Kashmir. These elections are held here like elsewhere in the country on schedule. However, this time the parliamentary elections are being held in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time after the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two union territories on August 5, 2019.
It is to be seen which impact these decisions are going to have for the ruling BJP in the electoral politics here and at the national level. Abrogation of Article 370 was a commitment made by the BJP with its supporters long back and was finally fulfilled in 2019.
The party also kept its promise of constructing a Ram Temple at Ayodhya. At national level, the BJP is joining the 2024 parliamentary polls’ fray with a much stronger position against the opposition including Congress than 2019.
The ruling party has kept most of the major promises made by it . If the BJP could electorally thrash the opposition so badly in 2019 polls, the coming poll scenario this year can be well understood. Opposition seems in no position to confront BJP on some of the issues, being faced by the common people in their day-to-day life.
So far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, BJP is very much optimistic about again winning the two seats, Jammu and Udhampur. After a recent meeting in Jammu, the party claimed that it will win convincingly even the Anantnag - Rajouri - Poonch seat also. However, the Kashmir based parties too are hopeful of winning the re-designed seat after changing strategy regarding fielding of candidates this time.
The major Kashmir based parties are intending and confident of winning the two seats Srinagar and Baramulla in the Valley. But who among them will actually win can become clear later. Till now the parties have not openly disclosed whether they will go for seat sharing or contest solo. As of now it seems that the parties will not contest jointly but will field their candidates in almost all the constituencies.
Congress, which has been advocating a joint contest, is itself making preparations for polls in all the constituencies including for the Anantnag - Poonch- Rajouri seat. This was evident as the party held a preparatory meeting of some leaders for the constituency when its senior central leader and party incharge J&K affairs, Bharatsinh Solanki, in Jammu region was talking about the opposition I.N.D.I.A bloc winning all five seats in J&K.
National Conference and PDP have already made poll related preparations for the seats. If at all there is some kind of seating sharing arrangement, then NC and PDP may not field candidates in Jammu and Udhampur and support Congress there.
But seat sharing is a tricky issue for the parties in the rest of the three seats. NC is not in a mood to sacrifice any seat for PDP and PDP too does not want to stay away from contesting polls. That way both the parties will contest separately on the three seats.
NC has started reaching out to Gujjar and Bakerwal community, which along with Pahari community is going to play a decisively role in Anantnag -Poonch- Rajouri constituency. The party held a convention of its workers and supporters from Gujjar and Bakerwal community in Jammu recently .
The convention was addressed by both, Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah. Prominent NC and Gujjar leader and former minister, Mian Altaf Ahmad, who is having a very strong following in the community, was also present. It is to be seen which candidate NC will field in the Anantnag - Poonch- Rajouri constituency this time in view of the changed scenario there.
The opposition political parties have also not reached to a consensus for the lone parliamentary seat in the union territory of Ladakh. During the election for Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Kargil some months back, NC and Congress had some kind of seat sharing arrangement and won.
Both the parties jointly formed the council. It is yet to be seen whether or not the two parties will contest jointly for the parliamentary seat. The Ladakh seat was won by BJP in 2014 polls. The party says it is in commanding position there since the major demand of the people has been met by making Ladakh a separate union territory.
However, the people in twin district of Leh and Kargil are raising more demands now and their leadership has held several rounds of talks with central government in recent past. Voices for statehood for Ladakh with a legislative assembly are also being raised now.
The union territory has no assembly and comprises of two hill development councils- one each in Leh and Kargil districts. Safeguarding the land and jobs rights are also being demanded by the people and leaders in Ladakh.
Some parties in J&K like that of Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) and Congress have been also demanding similar rights for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The parties say the existing laws are weak to protect the rights.
Some local Congress leaders even claim that their party can make laws for this purpose if it is voted to power at centre. But such a possibility seems very bleak given the fate of Congress at the national level.
Apni Party led by Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari says that it has protected the rights of J&K people on land and jobs by making the central government to issue necessary orders in this connection. Apni Party leaders say that after the abrogation of Article 370 when all other parties took an escape route and remained silent, their party came forward and approached the central government to protect the rights of the people.
While this debate will continue in coming weeks and months, the political parties are presently busy in preparations for the parliamentary polls. The preparations can intensify now after the publishing of final electoral rolls.
Author is senior editor, Greater Kashmir