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Srinagar, March 11 – Following the recent meeting of the BJP leaders with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, political circles are agog with speculations about imminent assembly elections in J&K.
During his meeting with senior local BJP leaders, Amit Shah is reported to have told the party leaders to increase their public outreach and footfall on the ground.
In his interaction with his party colleagues here, BJP leader Ashok Koul is reported to have told them that assembly elections are going to be held sooner than expected.
Koul hastened to add that the timing and schedule of these elections is the prerogative of the Election Commission of India.
In their closed door meetings, National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress have told their party cadre that these elections could be held in May-June this year, but before the annual Amarnath Yatra, that starts towards the end of June this year or else, they would be held with the general elections in the country.
Regional mainstream parties have been demanding holding of assembly elections without any delay so that the people have an elected government.
J&K was brought under the Governor’s rule after Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP resigned as the chief minister on June 19, 2018.
On August 5, 2019, Article 370 was abrogated by the Parliament and the state was downgraded to the status of a Union Territory.
Ladakh region, which was part of J&K, was made a separate Union Territory.
NC, PDP, Congress, Apni Party headed by Altaf Bukhari and People’s Conference (PC) headed by Sajad Lone have been demanding restoration of statehood.
These parties had been seeking restoration of statehood as a pre-condition for their participation in the assembly elections.
Amit Shah has again reiterated that statehood would be restored to J&K after the assembly elections.
The initial resistance of the mainstream parties not to join the elections unless statehood was restored, appears to have melted away.
While employment, industrialisation, better education, healthcare, infrastructure and the campaign against corruption remain the main thrust of the BJP, regional parties are demanding restoration of 370 in addition to statehood.
While restoration of Article 370 remains an electoral promise for NC, PDP and some other parties, as to how they would go about to the get the same restored without the required numbers in the Parliament remains an unanswered question.
Elections are generally fought on emotive issues in a place like J&K that is comparatively better off as compared to many other states of the country.
Semi-separatism has always come handy for the local mainstream parties in the Valley while complete integration with the rest of the country has brought good dividends for the BJP in the Jammu region.
An interesting question that all these political parties will have to answer to the electorate is whether emotive issues like semi-separatism and complete integration would still remain relevant when J&K has constitutionally been completely integrated with the rest of the country?
Even for the BJP, banking completely on the glory of abrogation of Article 370 is unlikely to hold the same sway on the voters in the Jammu region as it did when 370 was intact.
Political parties will have to move beyond abstract assurances whether elections are held in near future or delayed further in J&K.
It is in this context that the voters would look for new faces without any baggage of the past.
The failure of the new and young leadership to emerge in J&K would cause an electoral situation where people would have to choose between tried and tested politicians and parties.
Given the track record of traditional political parties, it would somehow boil down to ‘vote for the lesser evil’ situation.
Who would be the least mistrusted among the political parties would then determine the winner and losers.
In a nutshell, if new leadership without any baggage of the past does not emerge during the assembly elections, people would be voting for lack of choice rather than for their choice candidates.
It would then be a battle of old ideas and not of new ideology for the voters.