The snowfall finally occurred across the Kashmir Valley ending the long dry spell this winter. But can the upcoming Parliamentary polls be really a starting point to end the prolonged drought on the electoral front of Jammu and Kashmir? This question is being discussed in the political circles here.
If one goes by the views of leaders of major non-BJP political parties, then it all depends on the intentions of the Central Government and the Election Commission of India (ECI). The BJP leaders say they have no doubts about the assembly polls being held this year as there are clear cut directions from the Supreme Court to complete the whole exercise by September 30.
"During our ongoing preparations for assembly polls,we have been telling our cadres to be ready for assembly polls too. What can we do if there are doubts in the minds of other parties regarding assembly elections, " they say.
The last assembly polls were held in Jammu and Kashmir in 2014- Nearly 10 years back. Panchayat, Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), and Block Development Council (BDC) polls are also due after the completion of their terms. The Lok Sabha elections were held in 2019.
Likewise, elections for Panchayats and Urban Local Bodies were held in 2018 , for Block Development Councils in 2019 and District Development Councils (DDCs) in 2020. BJP leaders have been saying that the delay in assembly polls was due to "necessary" delimitation exercise and revision of electoral rolls. According to them while assembly elections were not held but democracy was strenghned by the Central Government at the grassroots level by conducting elections for Panchayats, ULBs, BDCs and DDCs.
They have been blaming traditional parties like National Conference, Congress and PDP for denying the people the right of grassroots democracy by not holding such elections earlier during their rule.
On the other hand, the NC, PDP and Congress have been accusing centre and ECI of denying the people in J&K their right to to elect their government by not conducting assembly polls. They asked that if assembly polls are not that important then why such polls are being conducted in other parts of the country where panchayats, ULBs, BDCs and DDCs also function.
Amid this discussion, the political parties are busy with the Parliamentary polls related preparations and focussing more on it. They were doing so during the dry spell of winter and they are doing it now after the snowfall. In fact the dry spell had helped the political parties to continue their activities in winter too. The leaders addressed public and party meetings.
This so when the crucial parliamentary polls are only a few months away. Several parties have been demanding holding of Lok Sabha and assembly polls simultaneously in Jammu and Kashmir in April-May. However, there seems no progress in this direction.
All preparations by the government and the Election Commission right now are about the parliamentary polls. The political parties too are also focussing on these elections at present. With possibility of any pre- poll alliance among NC, PDP and Congress apparently diminishing with every passing day, the parties are holding discussions about their possible candidates. They have not yet announced the names of their candidates.
It will be interesting to watch who among the four former chief ministers, Dr Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti will like to join the electoral fray this time. They were the members of Parliament in the past. Dr Farooq Abdullah is presently also the MP from Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency.
Omar Abdullah recently said that while his party has not decided about the candidates yet but they would like Dr Farooq Abdullah to contest again. He stated that incase the NC president did not agree, then he (Omar) may himself be the candidate. Omar ruled out the possibility of his father and he himself contesting from two different constituencies." Either he will contest or would I," he said.
Reports say that PDP leaders and prominent workers during a recent meeting urged their Party President Mehbooba Mufti to contest from Anantnag - Poonch- Rajouri constituency. However, no final decision was taken.
Regarding Ghulam Nabi Azad contesting Lok Sabha polls will be a tough decision for him. He always has been envied by others for his political luck. Azad had contested the 2014 parliamentary polls from Udhampur constituency as Congress candidate but lost to BJP's Dr Jitendra Singh, now a union minister.
In 2019 elections Azad did not contest. Last year he formed his own party Democratic Progressive Azad Party after resigning from Congress. Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned Azad's name again in the Parliament on February 5 saying he became a victim of dynastic politics in Congress and had to move out of the party. The Prime minister was replying to debate on the address of President.
On February 6, while talking to media persons in Jammu , Azad alleged that he has doubts that some political party is behind the recent fire incidents in Banihal. However, he did not name the party. Azad said houses of his two party workers gutted mysteriously.
Chairman of Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) demanded a probe into the two fire incidents as also in a similar incident at Fruit Market Banihal where 72 temporary shops were reduced to ashes. Asked whether he was blaming Congress, he said he did not say so." But if a probe is conducted, I will tell the probe agency what I feel," he said.
Both Congress and BJP have become more active politically in Jammu. Congress held series of party meetings. Its central leaders took feedback from their leaders and workers regarding forming a pre- poll alliance with any party in J&K. Besides getting the feedback, the leaders remained busy working out their party preparations for the polls.
They criticised the BJP on various issues including alleged betraying the interests of Jammu people, growing unemployment, and inflation . The BJP on its part is seriously trying to counter the onslaught. Feeling that because of some emerging local issues, the scenario for them in Jammu is not the same what it was in 2014 or 2019 polls, BJP leaders want to neutralise the growing Congress influence.
In Kashmir also its leaders are trying to intensify their activities. Senior leader Ashok Koul is busy in his efforts. He and others have done lot of public outreach programmes particularly with the youth. To what extent such moves have proved fruitful will become known at the election time.
However , the party till now has not been able to get any prominent political face into its fold. BJP has to rely on those only who are new or little known in politics.
Author is senior editor, Greater Kashmir