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Jammu & Kashmir's parallel-universe conundrum, and the need to end it

To understand developments in Jammu & Kashmir, a good mental exercise is to imagine that the region exists in two parallel universes. Both are inhabited by real people.

In one, the people are angry, frustrated and helpless. They think that they lack effective political representation and have no faith in what passes for democracy. They find themselves at the receiving end of state violence with child protestors maimed and blinded by pellet guns or killed when they try to counter the violence of the state by picking up guns. They cannot understand why any State would treat them the way they are treated.

In a parallel universe, everything is normal: elections are held, people vote even if in very small numbers, mayors are appointed to cities and towns and local bodies are manned by peoples’ representatives. In this alternative reality, law and order prevails and every problem is a nail for which there is a hammer handy. It is run by the security establishment and a coterie accountable to their masters in Delhi.

There is a perceptual disconnect between the two parallel universes – one cannot understand the existence of the other.

Voters in Uri queue to vote

However, periodically a portal opens, connecting the two realities. For a limited time a few chosen people can transit from one universe to the other. Recently it opened allowing those who were elected in the civic body elections to cross over into the parallel universe where everything runs perfectly and conforms to law. The people who stood for elections, however, remained anonymous. Without announcing a political programme or canvassing for support they were declared elected, unopposed in some cases and with a less than 4 per cent vote in others.

However, December 20 could present a point of crisis, when Governor’s Rule in J&K ends. Speculation is rife that a rag-tag coalition of legislators from the suspended state Assembly may form a new government.

This was attempted earlier when the elected government was brought down by the BJP in June. Then there was talk of forming a coalition with either Sajjad Lone of the Peoples’ Conference as the new Chief Minister or, alternatively, Lone as Deputy Chief Minster with a Hindu from Jammu as Chief Minister. However, legislators from other parties had refused to bite the bait.

Clearly that was not the end of that story. Reports suggest that the script is being revived in the aftermath of the local civic body elections. Some political activists had crossed over from the established political parties to Lone’s People’s Conference, to contest the civic election. One of them, Junaid Azim Mattu, defected from the National Conference (NC). The Governor virtually declared him Mayor of Srinagar even before the ballots were counted.

Mattu’s success has emboldened the powers-that-be to try once again to form a coalition government with defectors from other parties. The BJP has 25 MLAs, Lone has two. Another 17 legislators are needed to reach the figure of 44 required for a legislative majority.

However, potential defectors may like to wait for the results of the next general elections. If the BJP does not return to power in Delhi, then the life of any J&K government set up in this way would be short. Also, it is not clear how defecting MLAs can dodge the state’s stringent anti-defection law which bans defections.

Another possibility is that the Governor orders fresh Assembly elections. In the alternative J&K universe, fresh Assembly elections could be manipulated to produce a new, pliable government in Srinagar, under Sajjad Lone. The BJP has to only ensure a decisive win for its candidates in the Jammu and Ladakh regions. In the Valley, if the two main regional parties, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the NC boycott the polls, some anonymous local Muslims could be fielded from the BJP or Lone’s Peoples’ Conference.

An impression would be created that the democratic process has been restored in the state. A new Kuka Parray would have been born. Hopefully his fate would be different, as neither Kashmiri militants nor Pakistan would like the emerging scenario to be presented as normal or routine.

However, an orchestrated “return to ‘normalcy’” dreamt up in the para-universe will not materialise if the PDP and the NC choose to contest the Assembly election. If they contest, then the BJP and Lone’s party may face a rout in 46 seats of the 87 elected Assembly seats in the Valley (2 additional members are nominated to the 89-member J&K Assembly).

However, the BJP cannot assume easy passage in Jammu and Ladakh. The prospect of losing on its home turf in the urban areas of Jammu will weigh particularly heavily on the BJP because of the effect this could have on the party’s electoral fortunes in the 2019 general elections. The course of action chosen by the central government will, therefore, be based on an assessment of these unpredictabilities.

It is quite possible that given these uncertainties, the BJP may opt for a third alternative – of President’s Rule. The J&K Constitution does not allow for extension of the present Governor’s Rule beyond six months. It can be replaced by President’s Rule with the approval of Parliament. That would give the parallel universe a new lease of life for another six months, with the Governor and his advisors remaining the fount of the administration.

President’s Rule will allow the BJP to pass over the hump of the general elections. Should it return to power in Delhi and also do well in Jammu and Ladakh, there will be improved prospects for a fresh Assembly election. Otherwise it will be for the new dispensation that comes to power in Delhi in May 2019 to decide what it wants to do in J&K.

It must begin by dismantling the make-believe governance that the BJP government has constructed in the state with the help of the security establishment. It is only dressed in the outwardly accoutrements of political representation. Everyone in the real world can see that the emperor has no clothes. 

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