First it was the National Conference that said it would boycott the local bodies polls unless the Narendra Modi government at the Centre made clear its stand on Article 35A and took “effective steps” to protect it. It was just a question of time before the People’s Democratic Party followed suit, and unsurprisingly, it has cited the same reason. The urban local bodies elections, fought on a party basis, are to be held between October 1 and 5, while the panchayat elections, where candidates cannot invoke party affiliation, will be spread over November and December. Both parties have spun high principle to justify their decision not to participate in a democratic exercise, but that does not hide the expedience. Certainly, there is much to be questioned about the legal challenge to 35A, which confers special rights and privileges on the people of J& K. But to conflate that with the scheduled elections in the state is in sharp contrast to their enthusiastic participation in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council elections, in which the NC emerged as the party with the largest number of seats. At the time, no one spoke of Article 35A, though the election was held on August 27, just four days before it was to come up for hearing in the Supreme Court. This only indicates that something more than a principled objection to Article 35A lies behind the parties’ boycott of local polls.
Over the last four decades, mainstream parties in Kashmir have been the bridge between their constituents and the Centre. Yet, the big challenge that has emerged before these parties is their own relevance. The Centre’s attitude — using these parties for government formation in the state, but paying little heed to the political expectations of their constituents — has played a big role in undermining them. In recent years, there is the example of the PDP, which took a huge leap of faith to forge an alliance with the BJP. The PDP could have salvaged something of its standing among those who voted for it, had there been even a little forward movement on the big promises of the Agenda for the Alliance agreed upon by both sides. But despite Prime Minister Modi’s Independence Day speeches in which he claimed that dialogue is the road to finding a solution in Kashmir, there was no attempt at acting on this. When the partnership ended, the PDP was the main loser.
But by threatening to boycott elections now, both NC and PDP are only shooting themselves in the foot, because it erodes and undermines their relevance even more. It is through elections that these parties have made their space in Kashmir. Separatists can boycott elections because they are clear they do not believe in “Indian” elections, but if the NC and PDP too stay away, how do they differentiate between themselves and the Hurriyat. Both parties must reconsider their decision and the Centre must encourage them to do so. Yes, there is a serious security situation that threatens the safety of participants. A boycott, however, plays into the hands of all those who want to see the situation worsen.