An experiment in ‘restricted’ democracy - GulfToday

An experiment in ‘restricted’ democracy

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.


The abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution has further complicated the situation in Kashmir.

The Narendra Modi administration is trying in Jammu and Kashmir a form of restricted democracy, quite distinct from what India’s Constitution provides for.

The democratic process in J and K was already at standstill when the Centre scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave the state a special status, and reduced it to a Union Territory in August 2019, after detaining Kashmir’s political leaders and putting the region under lockdown.

J and K’s last elected government was a coalition led by Mufti Mohammed Syed’s People’s Democratic Party with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party as a junior partner.

It was an alliance of convenience dictated by circumstances. No party had a majority in the Assembly elected in 2016. After Mufti’s demise, his daughter Mehbooba Mufti became the Chief Minister.

The BJP wrecked the coalition after Mehbooba Mufti foiled a bid by its ministers to save persons arrested on charges of gang-rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua district of Jammu.

The crackdown and the changes in the state’s status came shortly afterwards.

The valley’s higher population, combined with historical and religious factors, has given it a dominant role in J and K politics. This was a sore point with the BJP whose influence is limited to the Hindu-majority Jammu region.

Soon after the state was reduced to a Union Territory there were reports that the Centre planned gerrymandering to raise Jammu’s representation in the legislature. Such an exercise cannot convert Kashmir’s Muslim majority into a minority.

Following the changes in J and K status, the administration rewrote the land laws and domicile rules which were in force from the days of the Maharajas.

This has opened the door for people from other parts of India to buy land and settle down in J and K. What impact this will have on J and K’s demographic pattern is still not clear.

The experiment in controlled democracy involved elections to District Development Councils which have no effective powers.

The Centre presumably believed that Kashmir’s political parties, smarting under the assault on the constitutional system, will boycott the elections, leaving the field to others. With militants asking the people to stay away, polling in the valley in recent elections was poor anyway.

Ahead of the polls, a new party styled as Apni Party, believed to be a BJP proxy, appeared in the valley.

The government’s investigative agencies issued notices to several Kashmiri leaders in connection with alleged irregularities. Property worth more than Rs 110 million belonging to National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah were seized in a money-laundering case.

The National Investigative Agency picked up PDP leader Waheed ur Rehman Para and detained him in Delhi’s Tihar jail. Another PDP leader Naeem Akthar was also reportedly detained.

Confounding the Centre’s calculations, Kashmir’s parties decided to contest the elections together under the banner of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaratuon (PAGD).

The Gupkat Declaration is a document signed by six parties, including JKNC, PDP, J&K unit of the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), pledging to work for restoration of J and K’s special status.

The elections were held in eight phases under tight security. The polling was 50.8 per cent. This high figure was made possible by the huge turnout of 68 per cent  in Jammu. Polling in Kashmir was only 33 per cent. Obviously the electoral exercise did not enthuse the valley very much.

As soon as counting was over the BJP claimed victory. It said it had emerged as J and K’s largest party, winning 75 of the 280 seats filled. However, the real victor was PAGD, which bagged 136 seats: NC 67, PDP 27, Congress 26, Peoples Conference 8, CPI(M) 5, Peoples Movement 3. Apini Party got three seats. Independents bagged 50 seats.

The BJP has actually little to celebrate. Its vote share in Jammu fell from 59% in the Lok Sabha poll to only 34%. Apparently its supporters in Jammu are getting disillusioned with the changes the Centre has made.

The elections were held to form 20 DDCs, each with 14 members. PAGD is reported to be well placed to gain control of 13 of the DCCs, including a few in Jammu province. Independents may be able to tilt the balance in a few DCCs. PAGD leaders have alleged that officials are denying them access to the Independents.

One unstated objective of the electoral exercise was to gain credibility abroad for the government’s claim that normalcy is returning to J and K. It did not work out.

The Centre, which had barred access to the valley to foreign media, took reporters of the New York Times and Financial Times of London on a conducted tour during the elections. Both papers reported that conditions were far from normal.

Related articles