By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: India’s newest and strategically important Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir could soon have a new chief minister, ending a yearlong suspense over the restart of the political process in the region that has a border with Pakistan.
Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort on India’s 74th Independence Day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Jammu and Kashmir could soon have elections to its legislative assembly after the delimitation of electoral constituencies.
“Delimitation process is underway in Jammu and Kashmir. Once it is completed, an election will be held. Jammu and Kashmir will have its own chief minister and ministers. We are committed to this,” Modi said.
The announcement is significant as it has come days after Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory turned one on Aug 5.
Last year, the Modi government had rendered ineffective Article 370 of Constitution of India that prevented the complete integration of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state into national mainstream, and bifurcated the region into two Union Territories, including Ladakh.
Then, Modi had said that the Jammu and Kashmir would not remain a Union Territory for long and that his government wanted elections to be held. Today, the prime minister hailed one year of the Union Territory.
“This year is the year of a new development journey of Jammu and Kashmir. This year is the year of rights for women and Dalits in Jammu and Kashmir! It is also a year of dignified life of refugees in Jammu and Kashmir,” Modi said.
“It is a matter of pride for all of us that the representatives of the local bodies in Jammu and Kashmir are pushing forward a new era of development with activism and sensitivity.”
Before Article 370 was removed, restrictions on movement had been imposed, as thousands of additional troops were deployed to the region to prevent violence. As security measures were tightened, the internet was also suspended.
Besides, several key political functionaries including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, both belonging to the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, and Mehbooba Mufti of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party were detained at their homes. Farooq and Omar are out while Mehbooba continues to be under house arrest.
The last time Jammu and Kashmir had an elected chief minister was in 2018 when the Bharatiya Janata Party and People’s Democratic Party coalition fell after BJP decided to withdraw support to then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Local body (Panchayat) polls scheduled for March this year had to be postponed over law and order concerns. India recently deployed a career politician from Uttar Pradesh Manoj Sinha as the new lieutenant governor replacing former bureaucrat G. C. Murmu, who was appointed as the next Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
The sudden change in the leadership of the Union Territory had revived hopes of resumed political activity in Jammu and Kashmir, where there already is a huge presence of Indian security forces to ward off threats from Pakistan, which continues to violate the Line of Control and pushes terrorists into the region to disrupt peace.
In the 2014 assembly polls, BJP dominated Jammu while PDP emerged strong in the Kashmir valley. Both the Indian National Congress and the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference did not fare well in the then elections.
Recently, a new political outfit, the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, led by Altaf Bukhari, has come up but is yet to make its presence felt.
Other smaller political outfits are struggling to find feet on the ground. This includes the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement launched by former Indian Administrative Service officer Shah Faesal, who decided to quit politics earlier this month and resigned from the political party he founded. Sajjad Lone-led Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference too is finding the going difficult.
Following Modi’s announcement, it would be interesting to watch the new political landscape in Jammu and Kashmir.
Unlike Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh will have no assembly. Turning Ladakh into a UT was an old demand of the local residents, India’s prime minister said, as he noted the Himalayan region is moving forward to touch new heights of development.
On the lines of Sikkim, India’s state that shares border with China and that has made a mark as an organic state, Ladakh will be known as a carbon neutral region, Modi said.