New Delhi: Local body elections are being conducted in the strangest circumstances in Jammu and Kashmir that strip them of the most minimum credibility. The two major political parties of the state, the Peoples’ Democratic Party and the National Conference, are not contesting. Having national obligations, however, the ruling party at the Centre, the BJP, and the main opposition Congress are in the fray, but there are other factors undermining the elections. The media says names of candidates are not being made public in all but one case in apprehension of violence against them. There is no canvassing or rallies. Public participation in the local polls is next to nil. In several seats, there is a single candidate. Is there any point in holding elections? How did things get so bad?

The macro reason is the muscular policy of the Narendra Modi government in the Valley which has not produced desired results. Alienation is at a peak. More youth than since the Nineties are attracted to militancy and the commitment is fiercer than training leading to early deaths in encounters with security forces. Each death breeds further alienation and locals actively resist security operations causing civilian casualties as well. Deaths feed the cycle of anger and hopelessness to create more runaway militants. Pakistani terrorists are less of a problem that Kashmiri militants. Non-Kashmiri deaths barely cause a ripple but the killing of a local produces a firestorm of protests. This is a new trend which has not escaped Pakistani exploitation.

The micro reason for the appalling deterioration of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is the dissolution of the PDP-BJP government which emerged from an understanding between the late statesman, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, and Narendra Modi. The coalition experiment was not a success with both sides losing their constituencies without, however, strengthening the opposition. As a mainstream party, the BJP had a responsibility to continue with the arrangement. A national party has to make sacrifices and cannot look at everything through the cold eye of electoral politics. To this day, there is no explanation for Modi to order the desertion of the BJP from the J and K government. Indeed, Mehbooba Mufti, the other partner, should have withdrawn long ago since her support base was shredded by the alliance with the BJP. But she hung on, persevering stateswoman-like, while the BJP panicked and pulled out. Blame is laid at the door of the RSS but the RSS is cannier. The RSS won’t let go a chance of expansion, and expansion in J and K has been in its plans for decades. After the Kathua outrage, the BJP needed any excuse to break with Mehbooba Mufti, staring, as it was, at a mutiny in the Jammu unit. A wiser Central leadership would have persisted with the experiment and kept the hotheads in check. The collapse of the PDP-BJP government decisively turned the clock back.

With such a record of broken promises and their dreadful consequences, it was hardly likely that the PDP would join the local bodies’ election; the National Conference had made non-participation clear from day one. National compulsions brought in the BJP and Congress but the situation was fluid. Even so, it is something of an inglorious precedent to conduct elections on the sly. The credibility of India’s claims on J and K has been strengthened by the electoral process. Regular elections held over the years have made plebiscite redundant. The BJP leadership has lost sight of the big picture and lent a grotesque quality to local elections. It has reversed the emotional integration of J and K to this country.

In the Nineties when the army was engaged in returning normalcy to the state, it was clear that there were possibilities of minimizing the threshold of violence but never of altogether eliminating it. Minimum violence leading to credible polls would set in motion change in J and K and not unremitting military-led counterterrorism operations. The major governments of P. V. Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh understood the importance of the political process. Initially, the Narendra Modi government also accepted this narrative, although it also made clear that muscular alternatives would be applied at the first opportunity. The Burhan Wani death and the violent aftermath supplied the opportunity. Jammu and Kashmir has not been the same since.

To confound matters, a most immature governor has taken residence in the Srinagar Raj Bhawan. Billed as a political stalwart, the secret local bodies’ polls are being conducted under his aegis. It should bring no credit to a politician. The farce has to end and the sooner the better. Ways have to be found to re-establish a government in J and K based on the last assembly election results. If the PDP and BJP have to join hands again, the bitter pill has to be swallowed. Drift is perilous for Jammu and Kashmir and the country.