Kashmir BDC polls: Move to percolate democracy to grassroots and invest in new leadership demands greater cheer and attention
The western media has given it a miss, but there is no reason why we shouldn’t celebrate the green shoots of democracy in the troubled region.
The western media has given it a miss, but there is no reason why we should not celebrate the green shoots of democracy in the troubled region.
It is foolish to persist with a policy that has failed India for seven decades, and dafter still to assume that the failed policy will suddenly throw up a different result.
Major Kashmir-based parties such as NC and PDP had boycotted the elections because their top leadership are still in detention.
Ever since the successful holding of Block Development Council elections on 24 October in Jammu and Kashmir that saw a high turnout of 98 percent minus any incidents of violence or disturbance, there have been attempts by the Opposition and a section of Indian media to play down the significance of the achievement. A report in The Telegraph, for instance, berates the polls for being “indirect” where the voters are elected representatives as if that somehow invalidates the magnitude of the development. If “indirect” procedure is the ground for invalidation of polls, then Rajya Sabha elections should also stand nullified.
Another report called the polls “of the BJP, by the BJP and for the BJP” in advance, even though results showed that Independent candidates won the highest number of blocks (217), while BJP bagged 81, Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party 8 and one seat was won by a dissident Congress leader.
Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor called it a farce while his party said the polls were a “mockery of democracy”, ostensibly because National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Indian National Congress chose to stay away.
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) October 26, 2019
These criticisms fail to take into account the fact that elections were held despite warning from Pakistan-controlled operatives, and 1,092 candidates from 310 blocks in the state contested the polls at the risk of their lives and reinforced their belief in democracy. PTI had reported, there were 26,629 electors including 8,313 women and 18,316 men for the polls to choose chairpersons of BDCs. The BDCs are second-tier organisations of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).
The situation in which the polls were held were doubtlessly not “normal”. Major Kashmir-based parties such as NC and PDP had boycotted the elections because their top leadership are still in detention. The Congress, too, had announced its boycott. Even so, the successful holding of the polls is an important marker of stability amid volatility and a kickstarting of the democratic process at the grassroots.
It is evident that the Centre’s gamble on abrogation of Article 370 is part of a meticulous plan to let democracy to the roots, empower local bodies and invest in a new leadership that will be backed by New Delhi to the hilt so that the Centre’s development agenda is implemented without it being held hostage to the interests of ruling elite.
It is a gamble, but a gamble worth taking. It is foolish to persist with a policy that has failed India for seven decades, and dafter still to assume that the failed policy will suddenly throw up a different result.
On the other hand, reading down of the temporary status integrates Kashmir better with India, and prises open the deadlock to present New Delhi with a set of options at the risk of creating a political vacuum. This is where critics make a mistake as they overlook the realities of Kashmir for the last three decades while comparing the situation pre-and-post 5 August.
Worth reiterating that the situation right now is far from “normal”, but the word “normal” conceals more than it reveals when it comes to Kashmir. The dominant western narrative carried by many media houses is not too different from the one peddled by Pakistan that blames India for “snatching away” the rights of Kashmiris for self-determination and “gross human rights violations”. Both of these are fallacious positions.
Self-determination (or UN-monitored plebiscite) is no longer possible in the entire princely state of Jammu and Kashmir because Pakistan has not met the first requirement of plebiscite by withdrawing completely from the area under its illegal occupation. What’s more, by bartering a chunk of its occupied territory to China, Pakistan has effectively nullified the possibility of a plebiscite.
Second, as the perpetrators of cross-border terror to achieve its revanchist design in Kashmir — a Muslim-dominated state it considers as “unfinished business of Partition” — Pakistan has committed and continues to commit the worst human rights violations. But the BDC polls are not about Pakistan. These are the tentative, baby steps to restore a modicum of normalcy in the troubled region. The Indian state’s effort is put into contrast by the desperation of terrorists that are determined to thwart any attempts at “normalcy”.
In the last two weeks since the Centre has lifted partially the telecommunications ban in Jammu and Kashmir, there have been five terror attacks against non-local apple truckers resulting in six casualties. The latest happened on Monday when Narayan Dutt, a driver from Udhampur, was shot by unidentified terrorists in the Kanilwan area of Anantnag. Prompt police action reportedly prevented more truckers from getting victimised in the area.
Also on Monday, terrorists lobbed a grenade at a bus stand in Sopore, injuring 15 civilians among whom one was admitted to a hospital in Srinagar. The victim’s condition is serious. This is the second grenade attack in three days. The earlier attack in Srinagar injured six security personnel.
Apple is a significant part of Kashmir’s local economy. The fruit’s trade, according to a Washington Post report, was worth $1.6 billion in exports in 2017. A fifth of Kashmir’s economy depends on apple harvesting. It provides a livelihood for 3.3 million people. The report notes that less than 10 percent of harvested apples had left the region by 6 October due to targeting of truckers and fruits traders by terrorists. The attack on civilians at a bus stand, too, is indicative of heightening the threat perception through terror tactics to prevent Kashmir from returning to normalcy.
In this context, the BDC polls demand greater cheer and attention. The western media has given it a miss, but there is no reason why we shouldn’t celebrate the green shoots of democracy in the troubled region.
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