Since the Supreme Court has now directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to hold assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir by September 30, 2024, the political activities will gain further momentum. The political parties will accordingly chalk out their election plans and strategies. Before the Supreme Court direction there was an uncertainty and ambiguity regarding the timing of holding the assembly polls. Now the political circles hope that the elections are held as per the fixed timeline and not delayed further.
After the Supreme Court in its judgement upheld the abrogation of Article 370, the political parties reacted as per their stances. There is still enough time left for them to prepare extensively for the crucial assembly polls even as they had already made some preliminary preparations in this direction. That included nominating constituency incharges, who are likely to get mandate, and holding public meetings and workers' meeting across Jammu and Kashmir. In coming weeks or months, the parties will further intensify their electoral politics related activities. The immediate requirement for them is
also to switch over to intense preparations for the Lok Sabha polls, scheduled in April- May next year.
The parties particularly the National Conference, PDP and BJP would try to raise the abrogation of Article 370 related issue and the court verdict during elections. National Conference, which is taking credit for being the first to take the issue to Supreme Court, has already stated that it will continue its peaceful and constitutional ways to get back Article 370. "It took decades to BJP to finally abrogate the Article and we are also ready for a long struggle to get it back peacefully," said former Chief Minister and Vice President National Conference Omar Abdullah. Another former Chief Minister and PDP President Mehbooba Mufti said that the verdict is not the end of the road for getting back Article 370 and that her party will continue its peaceful efforts in this direction.
To what extent the two parties can impress the voters on the issue is to be seen. But political analysts say that if Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, also known as Sher-e-Kashmir and considered as the tallest leader of Kashmir, could not bring back the pre-1953 position despite a long political struggle, how can leaders like Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti achieve any progress on the Article 370 issue. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah could only get back power as chief minister in 1975 with Congress support, which too was withdrawn shortly. On restoration of pre-1953 position, he was categorically told by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that the clock cannot be turned back and that he must accept what was being offered to him.
Even in 1996, NC refused to take part in Lok Sabha polls demanding restoration of greater autonomy to J&K first. The demand was ignored by the then central government and the party had to contest the assembly polls after a few months without any pre-conditions. The assembly polls at that time gave a thumping majority to NC, which encouraged its government to pass a resolution after a few years in the assembly for restoration of greater autonomy. The resolution, passed against the wish of the then central government led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was forwarded to New Delhi for consideration but was rejected.
NC being the oldest and premier regional political party in Jammu and Kashmir and advocating autonomy had moved to Supreme Court after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019. Later, some more parties and people also approached the top court challenging the abrogation. Nearly four years after when the Supreme Court finally started hearing the case this year, it generated interest in Jammu and Kashmir. Some parties, which had earlier said that Article 370 was a closed chapter and that there was a need to move on, too started showing some kind of interest in the court hearings. Now after the verdict the political parties also reacted on expected lines. It seems that they were mentally prepared for such a judgement and had accordingly planned their reaction. Any relief by the Supreme Court on the petitions challenging abrogation could have given the parties more particularly NC some kind of edge in the elections. But it did not happen. However, the NC has made up its mind to tell the people during elections that they tried their level best to counter the abrogation of Article 370 by going to Supreme Court. The party leaders have stated that they will continue to fight for its restoration through political and legal means in future as well.
Opponents of NC and PDP view that since the two major parties have nothing new to offer to the people in the completely changed political scenario in J&K, so they keep on harping on Article 370 issue despite knowing they are not going to achieve anything. Things seem getting difficult for NC and PDP in electoral politics due to some major changes. Whether they enjoy the public support or not , their sailing this time towards the power shores seem complicated- First due to the delimitation exercise and then by a likely new law regarding nomination of some MLAs with voting rights. Various parties have been alleging that these legislators, to be nominated by Lieutenant Governor , will join BJP and that way the number of the party legislators will get further strengthened in assembly. They say they are not against such nominations but it should be done by an elected government only. According to them, the path of BJP has been made easier for getting the political power in J&K in next assembly polls. J&K BJP leaders have been saying that their party will get majority on its own and that the next chief minister will be from their party only.
Since the Supreme Court judgement came only four months before the Lok Sabha polls, it refreshed the memory of people at national level regarding August 5, 2019 when the parliament through its decision abrogated the Article 370 and bifurcated the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state into two union territories. Top central BJP leadership said that the Supreme Court judgement vindicated that the decision by their government is constitutional. They added that the verdict upheld the sovereignty and integrity of India. By abrogating Article 370, the BJP fulfilled its commitment." We keep our promises made with the people. We do what we say," said senior BJP leader and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently.
Author is senior editor, Greater Kashmir.