Boycott of elections in future would mean virtual death of a political party
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU: Jammu and Kashmir’s first universal adult franchise, after the erstwhile State was divided into the two union territories of J&K and Ladakh in August 2019, is being planned in the next two months as the Government has decided to constitute the first District Development Councils (DDCs) and given right to vote to an electorate of around 6 million people. All eligible voters, excluding those already represented in the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), would be entitled to exercise their right of franchise.The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill had been introduced in the Parliament on 5 August 2019, and passed with a thumping majority, repealing J&K’s Statehood and the special status granted under Article 370 of the Constitution of India. With its appointed date of 31 October 2019, J&K became a UT with a Legislative Assembly and Ladakh a UT without Legislature.The detention of mainstream politicians, including three former Chief Ministers-Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti-under the Public Safety Act (PSA), coupled with two months of curfew and restrictions from the government and about three-month-long separatist-sponsored shutdown disrupted the atmosphere of peace and tranquility.Six regional parties with the support of Congress and CPI (M) at the national level, have lately formed ‘Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’ (PAGD) and launched a joint struggle for restoration of the Statehood and Articles 370 and 35-A.Kashmir’s principal mainstream parties National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, which boycotted the Panchayat and the Urban Local Body (ULB) elections in 2018 for Article 370, are now at the forefront of the PAGD. Both however participated in the Lok Sabha election of April-May 2019, a year after the fall of Mufti’s PDP-BJP government and six months after the dissolution of the State Assembly. As of now, it is unclear whether the alliance would participate in the proposed DDC elections or call for a boycott to press its demands.The first democratic exercise after August 2019 was the Block Development Council (BDC) election in October 2019 when most of the mainstream leaders were under detention. Only the Panches and the Sarpanches, elected in 2018, were entitled to vote. There was little enthusiasm in the Panchayat and the ULB elections of 2018 when around 13,000 of the total of 21,000 seats remained vacant in the basic layer of the PRIs in the valley. As against 83 per cent in Jammu, the voter turnout was only 41 per cent in Kashmir where polling was physically held on just 30 per cent seats.The Lok Sabha general elections in 2019 witnessed an impressive voter turnout of 71 per cent in Jammu and Ladakh. Contrarily it was dismal in Kashmir-34 per cent in Baramulla-Kupwara, 14 per cent in Srinagar-Budgam and nine per cent in Anantnag-Pulwama.In this whole backdrop, particularly the transformation in August 2019, the first elections for the DDCs are going to be significant for a host of reasons. These would be the first litmus test to the acceptability of the Centre’s 2019 interventions in Jammu and Kashmir as the entire 6-million-strong rural electorate would be entitled to vote. The turnout will indeed depend on a variety of factors- the overall security scenario, participation or boycott of the political parties, capacity of the militants and the separatists to enforce their call for boycott.Union Ministry of Home Affairs has last week notified an amendment to the J&K Panchayat Act of 1989, providing for constitution of the top layer of the PRIs through universal adult suffrage of the rural population. After this amendment, the DDCs would replace the traditional planning system at the District level, currently controlled by the Deputy Commissioners (DCs). The Government of Jammu and Kashmir has accordingly made and notified necessary amendments in the rules related to holding of the elections for Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).The Government had initially planned to give the right to vote to only the elected chairpersons of Block Development Councils (BDCs). Now the common rural voters would have to elect the chairpersons and the vice chairpersons of DDCs in all the 20 districts. According to the official sources, a parallel exercise would run to fill up the 13,000 vacancies of the Panches and the Sarpanches which are also elected by the common rural voters.The DDC constituents will come from three different streams-the BDC chairpersons, the MLAs of the district and 14 elected representatives. The constituencies, 14 in each district, have been notified and the process of reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the women is underway. Once accomplished, the new set up would affect radical changes in the planning and development system at the district level. It was previously monopolised by the Ministers, the MLAs and the DC. In the new dispensation, they would have a limited say.This will be a historic transition from the decades-old system where politics was supreme and development a luxury. Previously it was democracy for politics. Now it will be democracy for development and governance. The DDCs would have different committees, to be headed by the Lok Sabha member of the district.The proposed DDC elections, likely to be conducted any time after completion of the current delimitation process, would have a bearing on the dynamics and the prospects of the new Assembly elections. In the future, a boycott of elections would mean the virtual death of a political party.
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