The fact is that each time the democratic process in Kashmir has got stalled or aborted or undermined, alienation and radicalisation have only grown

The Election Commission’s (EC) decision to not hold the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir is a mistake. To be sure, the EC’s claim that security considerations did not permit simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections has to be carefully considered. It is indeed true that there has been an alarming rise in violence in the Valley in particular. It is also true that terrorists, aided and abetted by Pakistan, would have been at the forefront of derailing the poll process, threatening candidates and voters, and pushing for a boycott. All of these are real –and not imaginary– issues that have to be navigated.

Yet, it is also true that while there is a strong security component to the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir – which requires a tough approach with Pakistan and being prepared in the Valley itself – there is also a strong political component. And it is here that the central government has a lot to answer for. The fact is that each time the democratic process in Kashmir has got stalled, aborted or undermined, alienation and radicalisation have only grown. It happened in 1987, when widespread suspicion that the polls were rigged led to many mainstream political actors turning to militancy. In the early 90s, with no democratically legitimate government in office, militancy and violence only grew. On the other hand, difficult as it was, the 1996 election restored a popularly elected government. In subsequent elections, voter turnouts increased, the legitimacy of elections began to be internationally recognised, citizens began to express faith in non-violent political forces through the ballot box. This was accompanied by the steady erosion in the credibility of both Pakistan and terrorist groups.

If the situation in Kashmir improved to some extent, it was because of this twin process. In the last four years however, the reverse has happened. The spirit of the last elections got undermined when an absolutely unnatural coalition – of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – took office. The insensitive handling of the situation after Burhan Wani’s killing only aggravated the sense of alienation in the Valley. With the BJP pulling out of the government last year, the state has been under Governor’s Rule. And mainstream regional actors – both the PDP and National Conference – as well as the local units of national parties have no way to channel political grievances on the ground in a democratic setting. In this backdrop, holding elections would have provided a channel for popular aspirations; restored faith in the democratic process; undermined separatists and Pakistan. The EC must remedy its error and hold polls in the state as soon as possible.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times