Democratic Suspense: J&K and Delhi!

The fractured mandate in the recently held elections to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) assembly has led to the imposition of Governor’s rule in this state for the sixth time. Democracy has eluded citizens of J&K despite their turning out in large numbers to cast their votes, the results of which were announced on December 23. With the term of the preceding J&K government, led by Omar Abdullah, coming to an end on January 19, Governor’s rule was required as parties failed to form an alliance to form the next state government. It has been preceded by more than a week following caretaker Chief Minister Abdullah’s desire to be relieved from his duties with immediate effect on January 7. President Pranab Mukherjee accepted Centre’s recommendation to impose Governor’s rule in J&K on January 9.

Though there have been “reports” of negotiations between People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), neither seems too eager to rush into an alliance. With J&K coming under direct rule of Centre, these parties are partly relieved at gaining more time to reach at some mutually acceptable agreement. Besides, now BJP’s primary political agenda is to secure a victory in Delhi assembly elections, which are scheduled to be held on February 7 and the results of which will be declared on February 10. Elections to Delhi assembly are being held for the second time in less than two years due to the 2013 polls having given a fractured mandate.

Despite BJP emerging as the leading party in 2013 Delhi elections, it fell short of a majority. With external support of Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) succeeded in forming the Delhi government. However, AAP did not stay in power for more than 49 days. As a result, Delhi has been under President’s rule since February 17, 2014. It may be recalled that even Delhi voters turned out in significant numbers to cast their votes in the previous assembly elections. Yet, democracy has eluded these voters for almost a year with Delhi being without an elected government and remaining under the direct rule of the Centre during this period.

Undeniably, in Delhi, BJP hopes to politically cash on the entry of Kiran Bedi into its ranks. Bedi has been presented as BJP’s chief ministerial candidate. However, this decision has not been welcomed by all BJP members. Intra-party crisis may prove electorally damaging for BJP. There is thus no guarantee that February 7 elections will help any of the three key parties in the race -- BJP, AAP and the Congress -- secure a majority and thus form a government on its own strength. And this raises the question: will democracy elude Delhi voters again? One is tempted to reflect on fractured mandate leaving J&K voters without a democratic government. Political gamble in J&K is far more complicated and risky for parties there than it appears to be in Delhi.

There is little doubt that religious polarization helped BJP gain all its 25 seats from Jammu while PDP won most of its 28 seats from the Valley. Though the National Conference (15 seats) is open to an alliance with PDP, the latter views it as a crucial risk to its own political future in J&K. The same factor has guarded PDP against rushing into an alliance with BJP. With Congress winning only 12 seats, an alliance with it does not secure PDP the needed numbers in the 87-member J&K assembly.

In Delhi, following last assembly elections, BJP was hopeful of a split in its rival parties leading to an increase in its strength to be able to form the government. With the BJP and its ally (Akali Dal) having won 32 seats in the 70-member Delhi assembly, they needed only four more members to be able to form the state government. BJP remained the leading party (31) but failed to form Delhi government.

The situation is more taxing and demanding in J&K with both PDP and BJP being short of more than 15 members to cross the 44-member mark in the state assembly. Considering that failure of BJP to secure additional support of four legislators kept Delhi without an elected government for around a year, democracy may elude citizens of J&K for a longer period as leading parties there are short of a greater number to be able to form the next government.

Democratic suspense in Delhi may not end on February 10, if none of the parties in the race wins a majority. There is expected to be a tight contest between BJP and AAP, with the former falling short marginally of reaching a majority. In such a situation, Congress is expected to support the latter. What an irony -- just as Delhites voted enthusiastically in 2013, Kashmiris turned out in large numbers to cast their votes last year. Yet, till date, both Delhi and J&K remain deprived of democratically elected governments. Political tension of this nature certainly amounts to be a testing time for Indian democracy at cross roads in Delhi and J&K!   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 February 2015 on page no. 11

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