The Centre’s claim that the government is ready for elections in Jammu and Kashmir , though it stated that “no exact timeframe “ can be spelled out for the restoration of the statehood to the Union Territory at the moment , has livened up hopes with a caveat of wait and watch . It has given a new twist to its political future, and the Centre would be taking its own time to decide when the statehood be restored , and for all other realistic reasons , the Centre will have to give its certificate of normal and peaceful conditions in the Union Territory before the Election Commission could take a call on holding Assembly polls in the UT.
As it appears that Centre would test the ground, as and when it feels that elections would throw a mandate that would be as per its wishes and not reverse the gains that it has made so far in ensuring normalcy. Thereafter, it will test the ground again as to how the people of the UT behave. It will all depend on the behaviour whether the UT will get its statehood back or not .Centre’s statement in the Supreme Court on Thursday was reflective of its intentions to keep J&K free of fear of the things sliding back to the dark days of disturbances when gun battles ,bomb explosions and high- velocity encounters defined Kashmir , and also its Catch-22 situation , whether to decide on the statehood or not . The exact time frame is illusive, and it could mean anything.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court on Thursday when the arguments on Article 370 resumed for the day, that the government is ready for elections in Jammu and Kashmir “anytime”, and there are three pending elections – Panchayat elections are on the anvil – but it is for the Election Commission of India to announce the polls (for the Assembly in J&K)
The apex court has been hearing petitions challenging August 5, 2019 revocation of Article 370 on a daily basis since August 2. On Tuesday (August 29), Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud led five-member constitution bench, had asked the Government to suggest a timeframe for the restoration of the statehood. The Solicitor General had stated that UT status of Jammu and Kashmir was not permanent, and he had promised to make a positive statement on the restoration of statehood and elections on Thursday.
Today, he recounted all the developments that had taken place in Jammu and Kashmir since abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 , and said that these developments and heightened tourist arrivals needs to be stabilized before taking a call on the restoration of the statehood.
The Solicitor General, regarding the full restoration of the statehood to the UT of J&K, expressed his inability to give an “exact time period for the same.
He said: “I am unable to give an exact time period for the conversion to full statehood but union territory is only a temporary phenomenon. Only in January 2022 to year end .1.8 crore tourists visited, and in 2023, I crore tourists have been there. These are the steps which are being taken by the Centre. Centre can only take the steps till it is a UT.”
Regarding elections, he said that “Centre is ready for elections but the State and Election Commission has to decide when to hold it and which level of elections that is Panchayat, district, etc is to be held first.”
Practically, the Centre has created a narrative of development, normalcy under the Central rule in the UT versus fear of these processes coming to a halt once the statehood is restored. Its fear, it seemed, is rooted in the political pressures synonymous with the political parties. Centre is risk-averse at this stage. It wants to wait till the time it thinks that the changes it has brought on Kashmir landscape assume permanency and irreversible.
On August 5, 2019 , when the Article 370 was abrogated , ending special status , and symbols of limited sovereignty – separate constitution ,flag and most powerful legislature that framed its own laws and said yes or no to the extension of the Central laws, and its offshoot Article 35 A provided for exclusive rights to the permanent residents of J&K on the land , employment and scholarships in the institutions . While J&K considered it as a symbol of its identity and dignity, the BJP thought that it was an irritant and barrier between the erstwhile state and the Indian Union. On August 5/6, 2019, the Centre had also declared that the state would be split into two UTs- Ladakh , and J&K. The Ladakh UT was to be without legislature; J&K UT was given legislative Assembly.
Two issues have cropped up yet again – (a) in practical terms, J&K as a state and later as UT is without an elected government since June 2018 when BJP withdrew from the coalition government led by Mehbooba Mufti, and it is without legislative Assembly since November 21, 2018, when the legislative assembly, in suspended animation since June20, 2018, was dissolved.
Secondly, the announcement of J&K becoming one of the two UTs, carved out the erstwhile state on August 5, 2019, was implemented on October 31, 2019. That means that the J&K is UT now for 46 months that is for three years and 10 months and its fate on becoming state continues to hanging in balance.