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Lok Sabha polls -2024 in J&K | An opportunity to rewrite history

2024 LS polls will prove how far the Indian democracy has travelled in the minds of the people
12:00 AM Apr 16, 2024 IST | Arun Joshi
lok sabha polls  2024 in j k   an opportunity to rewrite history

Lok Sabha polls-2024 are most critical of all elections in Jammu and Kashmir held since independence – perhaps much more interesting and intriguing than the coming Assembly elections, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured will be held soon.


The crucial nature of these elections is being judged in its first major electoral exercise since abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, and the changes that have come about thereafter. This is one way of looking at things. In fact, it is J&K people’s tryst with history where they can show where they stand and what all they want in the times to come.


It is all above the party politics and the narratives that have been implanted on the political landscape, revolving around merits and demerits of the abrogation Article 370. The polls have larger dimension than the constitutional changes have brought to fore.


It is a generational poll, in which the youth will decide the future outlook of J&K. The rhetoric and campaign issues are not catching imagination of the youth. They have seen everything, and they are determined to show what do they want, through vote or otherwise. In real sense of the word, the youth of Kashmir has not voted in the past 10 years. The last time, in 2014 Parliamentary and Assembly polls were all about their loyalty to parties. Kashmir youth voted for the regional parties in both these elections, manifesting their inner wishes and also the disillusionment. There was a Valley-centric paradox in the 2014 polls. Now they are not going by the political sloganeering and the optics that tend to turn into a reality and at the same time disappear like an illusion.


The contrasts in the situation in J&K before and after abrogation of Article 370 cannot be avoided. Even the worst critics of the abrogation of Article 370 know that things have changed for better. There can be no bigger satisfaction for parents that their children can go and return from schools without any fear of getting harmed.


It is a revolutionary change that Kashmir has witnessed since 1989. The other side of the picture is that even the best cheerleaders of the August 5, 2019 constitutional changes say it in whispers that ideas cannot be imposed anywhere. A fertile space has to be created first before sowing seeds for the growth of the idea. Peace has offered an opportunity to pause and think and decide which idea is better.


If the regional parties, National Conference and PDP, are responsible for swinging left and right on acceptance of the idea of India as the ultimate truth, the national parties have played no less role in keeping things in suspended animation on this particular idea. The assertion in rhetorical terms that entire Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and it will remain so, was rarely addressed internally.


This assertion, drawn from the instrument of accession that the last Dogra king Maharaja Hari Singh signed, acceding the whole of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, including the parts that are now under the occupation of Pakistan, is articulated more as a counter to Pakistan’s contesting narrative within and at the international forums, including UN.

This articulation about the integration is not for the international audience alone, it should resonate with the people of Kashmir as their heart throb. Constitutionally and physically many barriers have been demolished. The options other than accepting India as their nation stand closed. The future, it is incumbent, has to be searched within the country.

The optics of greener pastures on the other side of the border have been closed once and for all. The August 5, 2019 decisions and Pakistan’s own implosion have brought these changes. The significance of these changes is historic.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi listed this as first election in decades, where terrorism, separatism, secessionism, stone pelting, shutdowns and firing from across the border are not the issues. This is a statement of facts. It can be checked and tested on the ground. The issues have turned inwards. That, measured by any standards, is a big achievement since 1989 LS polls.

The 1989 Lok Sabha poll was expression of silent anger, and fear of the gun wielding militants who assumed the role of destiny-guiders. The militancy expanded and so did fear. It was not something natural, but politics of opportunism backed it.

The bane of Kashmir politics is to show political opponents in poorest of the poor light. It is a universal phenomenon, but Kashmir soil is different. The hostile and politically abusive debates create an environment of uncertainty, which anti-nationals and Pakistan relish. It needs to stop for idea of India to flourish as their own.

The 1989 elections, held under the shadows of emerging militancy backed by Pakistan and separatists in Kashmir, redefined the poll scenario in the Valley. This LS poll in 2024 will prove how far the Indian democracy has travelled in the minds of the people. That’s what makes 2024 poll unique.

It may not be known to many, especially those who were born between 1980s till now, that Jammu and Kashmir was denied its share in the Lok Sabha polls in 1991. Such was the intensity of terrorism that no one dared to talk about elections.

The Central Government, then led by Chandrasekhar, succumbed, and the polls were not held at all. Two ideas were at work – one the elections if held could result in massive killings and that would spotlight the Kashmir issue at the international level with increased focus. Since 1989, Kashmir witnessed political assassinations.  A majority of victims were from National Conference, followed by other parties. In subsequent years, no party was spared.

Secondly, the polls in violent atmosphere or in selective geographical entities – Jammu and Ladakh which were free of militancy –  would have dented the image of Delhi as that would have meant that Kashmir was not under its control.

In 2024, there is a desperation for polls. Everyone wants to contest. National Conference, PDP, Apni Party, People’s Conference and independents are keen to file their nominations and make it a big contest. Thirty three year ago - 1991- seems to have been forgotten and buried down the memory lane.

But the real difference will be made only when the national parties would throw their hat in the ring. Congress has a ruse that it is in alliance with NC – it was the same status in 1989. BJP’s not fielding candidates, at least no announcement has been made till date about the candidates for three valley seats while it was the first to announce its nominees for Jammu region’s two seats. This is for the party to ponder.

A little bit of more history – in 1996, NC did not take part in LS polls saying that Government of India had not offered any guarantee on its demand for restoration of full autonomy to J&K, 1998 polls brought NC back to the general elections – it was in power after winning the Assembly elections with a huge majority in the autumn of 1996.

The 1999 polls – PDP was born; then was a game changer – NC’s Omar Abdullah joined the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Some see it as a political opportunism that despite government offering no guarantee to the NC in J&K’s autonomy, Omar joined the central government. All alliances are born out of political convenience.

Then came 2004 polls, Mehbooba Mufti entered Parliament, the first woman after Begum Akbar Jahan, to do so from Kashmir. Omar re-entered Parliament in 2004. Mehbooba re-entered in 2014. The whole orientation of politics changed, and the NC and PDP emerged as rivals, swinging their alliances with the governments at the Centre.

Perhaps Omar’s stint in the Vajpayee government became one of the excuses for PDP to justify its short-lived alliance with BJP, apart from its political compulsions to respect the diametrically opposite electoral mandate in 2014 Assembly polls.

The road to 2024 has its destination. Lok Sabha polls are underway, but the real issue is will it nix the jinx of youth staying away from polls. They want to see their future bright, and these elections can show them the path provided parties think and articulate so.

It is significantly about their work, jobs, but on a larger canvas, they are looking for permanency in future. This is an inescapable reality. All must know.