It is my hunch. Elections for the State Assembly will be held earlier; instead of October 2014, these will be conducted in November 2013. True, hunch is not something to be believed as a gospel truth. It is an idea, which is based on a feeling for which there is no solid proof. Nonetheless, the idea of holding of elections for the State Assembly ahead of scheduled dates in the state was not born in the spur of moment, a couple of recent political developments in the state and debates over developments in the neighboring countries have contributed to my belief.
On 18 April 2013, patron of the Peoples Democratic Party and former Chief Minister, Mufti Muhammad Syed had a meeting with Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh in New Delhi. During an hour-long meeting, the two leaders reportedly discussed the developments and emerging political scenario in Jammu and Kashmir after hanging of Muhammad Afzal Guru on February 9 surreptitiously in New Delhi. There have been no reports about the two leaders discussing prospectus of holding early election in the state but the tone and tenor of the reports made public suggest that the elections in the state including holding them earlier have been central to the discussions. Emphasis laid by the PDP leader for holding fair elections one and half year before the scheduled dates defies logic unless it is a pointer towards the State going for early polls. The PDP leader referring to former Prime Minister, Vajpayee living to his commitment and “ensuring fair election in 2002” has a context, which, cannot be brushed aside as mere rhetoric. Seen in right perspective, the language of the statements of the Pradesh Congress after reappointment of its chief by the party high command also supports the contention. The National Conference has almost kick started its election campaign in Jammu province.
The political landscape in the region after the 2014 Afghan withdrawal looks hazy and ‘unclear if not murky’. “South Asia is fast approaching a period of profound change and potential upheaval” is the assessment of Washington about its withdrawal during the coming year. In spite of some commentators discounting the US withdrawal having any direct impact on the political situation in the state, many analysts have been debating about the situation in the rugged terrains in neighborhood spilling over to Kashmir. Though in a different context some ‘pro-movement leaders’ after their recent visits to Pakistan also talked about likelihood of the situation in Afghanistan after the troops withdrawal impacting the political scene in Kashmir. The imponderable situation in the neighborhood might also have contributed to the thinking of power centers to hold elections in the state towards the end of current year. Contrary to apprehension after hanging of Afzal Guru the year is expected to be peaceful.
Chairman of Hurriyat (G) Syed Ali Geelani on April 21, in a seminar calling upon people to boycott the forthcoming assembly election one and half year before the scheduled date intrigued me to think if the elections in the state were being held early. Ostensibly, the seminar on “Iqbal’s idea of freedom”, was not an appropriate forum for asking people to boycott elections to be held one and half year unless the ‘veteran pro-movement’ leader had some reliable inputs from his cadres about state going for polls in coming seven to eight months and some pro-movement organizations intending to try their luck at hustings.
Here, I am not commenting on the boycott call by the Hurriyat leader. Boycotting elections is not a new phenomenon- for over past sixty-seven years it has been an important form of resistance in the State. First, to boycott elections in the state was the National Conference in 1946. After 1953, the Plebiscite Front led by Sheikh Abdullah boycotted all the elections including that of 1972, which, besides the Jama’at-e-Islami was contested by some pro-right to self-determination parties by fielding in proxy candidates. In the electoral politics of the state 1977 and 1987 are important benchmarks for sucking into it even the most reluctant of the leaders. After 1990, the Hurriyat Conference boycotted all elections- it issue white papers on these elections. History of success of boycotting elections is full of highs and lows. Many times, boycott calls in Kashmir province and Muslim majority areas of Jammu have been near hundred percent. In this column, it is not possible to recapitulate and discuss the history of elections in the state- it is full of ugly warts.
If elections for the State Assembly are held in November 2013 as, I have started believing, question arises who are going to be the main players. On date, I see only three players, the National Conference, the Congress and the PDP in the field. Even the BJP that could tilt the power equation seems out of race after having suffered a vertical divide in the state. Some other parties that tried their luck during the last Parliament elections are also planning fielding their candidates from various constituencies- but it will be too early to write about them. Electoral politics in Kashmir to my understanding is a different genera that needs a different wherewithal from that of the popular politics.
In the context of coming elections, I see April 23 statement by Amir-Jama’at-Islamia Muhammad Abdullah Wani as significant. Stating that the Jama’at “was aware about problems of people and knew which party reaps benefits of boycotting elections and final decision about participation in the coming election will be taken in the Majilis Shoora.” Ironically, the statement that is departure from post 1990 position of the party on elections was made one after Syed Ali Geelani’ statement asking people to boycott the elections appeared in newspapers.
It will be interesting to watch, if the Jamma’at decides to participate in the coming elections and entering into electoral alliance with one of the three players. Moreover, how it was going to influence power structures in the state. Let us wait and watch.