Local elections in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) are a significant moment in the political evolution of the new Union Territory. Ever since the state assembly was dissolved in 2018, and the state was subsequently bifurcated and turned into a Union Territory, it has witnessed a political vacuum — where voters haven’t really got an opportunity to express their aspirations and elect representatives, and political figures haven’t been able to channel citizen aspirations and shape policies and administrative action. For those worried about the democratic deficit in the new Union Territory, local elections come as a sign that India remains committed to the democratic path. A range of forces deserve credit for this development. The Union government and Lieutenant-Governor
Manoj Sinha pushed for the elections; the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration — a conglomeration of Kashmir’s regional parties that is opposed to the constitutional changes — showed courage and chose to express its opposition by participating in the democratic exercise; and security forces kept relative peace when terrorists, sent from across the border, sought to undermine the democratic process.
The results are telling too. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration has swept the Kashmir valley — the alliance, led by National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, fought on a clear platform. It was opposed to the effective nullification of Article 370 and the dilution of statehood. While it is important to understand the role of local factors in determining local electoral outcomes, it cannot be denied that People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’s win is also evidence that the mood on the Kashmiri street is opposed to the revocation of Article 370. This is a message to the Centre, which did not follow due process and adopt an adequate consultative approach when it took the decision, and has been unable to reach out to the Kashmiri street and persuade it of the rationale of the move. This trust deficit must not be allowed to grow.
At the same time, the Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged as the single largest force, propelled by its win in Jammu and a breakthrough in limited parts in the valley. This reflects the greater support for the constitutional changes in Jammu. It also reflects the persistent divide in the state on religious and regional lines. Deepening the trust between Jammu and Kashmir, and between Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi must be core policy goals.