The significance of this cannot be dismissed – it is a big step in restoring a semblance of the political process in this contested region. Only a semblance, because Jammu & Kashmir was summarily stripped of statehood and Ladakh was hived off as a separate union territory by the Narendra Modi government a couple of years ago.
The parties in the Gupkar alliance – a list that includes the NC, the PDP, the Congress, and the CPM – will be unhappy about being a part of what they regard as a half-baked political process. But the question is whether they can afford to sit it out. They are aware that keeping out carries the risk of their opponents occupying the political space. This is what appears to have persuaded the seven-party Gupkar alliance to contest the first District Development Council elections to the UT held late last year. Politics, whatever else it may be, is also about patronage, and there is a lot to be had by holding on to power at the grassroots level. It is also possible that the leaders realise that they now inhabit a world that is gripped by an enduring pandemic, one that does not have the mind space to pay as much attention as before to their political demands.
Invitations have been sent to all mainstream parties and it will be interesting to see the level of participation, the granularity of the engagement, and the extent of discordance. It cannot be ignored that some of the leaders, who were placed behind bars only months ago, will come face to face with Modi. The big question on everyone’s mind, of course, is whether the delimitation exercise is just the beginning of a process of speedy restoration or just another step in the process that began with the setting up of a Delimitation Commission in March 2020 to determine the shapes and sizes of the constituencies in consonance with the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganising Act.
If Assembly elections to the Union Territory are held soon, the case for restoring statehood quickly to J&K will become much stronger. After neutralising Article 370 and stripping J&K of statehood, Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared that it would be restored at an appropriate time. The vague rider did nothing to shine any light on when such a restoration would take place. But if fair elections to the UT are held, and a government duly constituted, the case for giving Jammu and Kashmir its due will only become stronger. In politics, opening a chink is often enough to allow the light to come streaming in.