At a time when the Supreme Court has begun hearing petitions challenging the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status granted under Article 370, independent civil society voices and prominent leaders of the Opposition’s INDIA alliance have raised the pitch for holding Assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir.
The theme of denial of political rights to the people of Jammu and Kashmir was taken up by The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, which is helmed by former interlocutor to Jammu and Kashmir, Radha Kumar, and former Home Secretary, Gopal Pillai. A report published by the Forum highlighted the continued violation of civil rights in the Valley and the serious issues of unemployment and drug abuse that are festering in the erstwhile State where elections have not been held for over five years.
The Forum’s latest report, titled “Five years without an elected administration: Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir”, took on the Election Commission for its inability to justify the delay in holding elections. “The union administration accepted the delimitation commission’s report a year ago and it is eight months since fresh electoral rolls were prepared. All the preparations for an election have thus been completed, but the election commission has yet to announce dates for it,” the report said.
In the backdrop of the report, the National Conference president, Farooq Abdullah, and the PAGD spokesperson, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, articulated their concerns about the erosion of federal polity in India. “Local bodies’ elections in Jammu and Kashmir are being projected as sufficient processes for a functional democracy. If that is the model they want to implement, they (BJP) should begin it in Gujarat,” said Tarigami.
In a conversation with Frontline, Radha Kumar expressed her concern at the perceived co-opting of institutions by the Executive. “Most observers, including myself, are baffled by the EC’s deafening silence on Assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir. That the Modi administration does not want elections is clear: they will be routed. But why is the EC indulging in dereliction of duty?” she asked.
In an article published earlier this year, Frontline had reported that the BJP is not certain of its electoral prospects in Jammu and Kashmir despite its creation of acquiescent political formations that are expected to help it in a post-poll scenario. The article had pointed out that New Delhi did not seem eager to hold an election this year, and quoted a source in North Block who said that a June-July schedule would clash with the Amarnath yatra and a September date was rejected because of the G20 summit in New Delhi.
Farooq Abdullah scoffed at the government’s stand that Article 370 was a temporary feature of the Constitution, noting that “it was temporary because a plebiscite had to ascertain the future of Jammu and Kashmir.” Shashi Tharoor, Supriya Sule, Sitaram Yechury, Kanimozhi, and Sajjad Kargili were among those who attended the launch of The Forum’s report on 3 August.
The report chronicled the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir from August 2022 to July 2023, and focused on the atmosphere of fear in which the non-locals and religious minorities were living in Kashmir after a series of targeted killings. It also underlined the increase in the number of security personnel killed in the line of duty, indicating the persisting threat from militancy.
“Targeted attacks on Pandits and migrant workers—both Hindu and Muslim—continue. While the number of lives lost due to armed attacks and counter-insurgency operations was lower than in the previous year, the number of police personnel who died, including Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF), continues to be unacceptably high. 71 CRPF troops were killed in the four years between 2019 and 2022, twice as many as in the previous four years, 2014-2018, when 35 died,” the report said.
The report shed light on the growing sense of alienation in Ladakh, which was carved out as a separate Union Territory from the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. “The union administration has repeatedly promised to discuss the inclusion of Ladakhis in the sixth schedule, but little has resulted... direct administration has resulted in alienating Ladakh’s elected councillors as well as its people, both of which impact negatively on Indian democracy as well as national security,” it pointed out.
The report drew attention to the crackdown on civil society dissenters, including media persons. “Arrests under draconian legislation such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA) continue, despite judicial attempts to limit their application,” it said.
Radha Kumar pointed to the suspensions and terminations of jobs of government employees. She told Frontline that “apart from the unconstitutionality of firing employees merely because they are related to militants, or even just critics, the readiness to make enemies is deeply counterproductive”.
Shashi Tharoor, who spoke at the launch, condemned the creation of an insular regime, cautioning that “when you suppress democratic activity, you are bound to see an increase in undemocratic activity”. There has been a resurgence of militancy in the Jammu region; five soldiers were killed in a terror attack at Bhatta Durian in Rajouri in May.
The Forum as well as the INDIA alliance leaders endorsing the report have strongly recommended immediate Assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir and the withdrawal of unsubstantiated charges against civil society members.