The Election Commission has done well to announce elections in Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand. But for the ruling National Conference (NC) in Jammu and Kashmir, all other parties had favoured elections in time so that a new Assembly could be in place before the term of the present House ended in January. The NC’s objection was on the ground that the elections would affect the flood relief operations. Indeed, millions of people have been affected by the recent worst-ever floods in the Valley. However, the commission has clarified that the elections would not affect the ongoing relief work. The alternative was holding elections during the harsh winter months, which would have defeated the very purpose.
There have been numerous complaints that the Omar Abdullah government has not measured up to the task of providing relief to the flood-affected people. Even if the point that the government was taken aback by the flash floods is conceded, the fact remains that the post-flood relief work has not been confidence-inspiring. Given this none-too-pleasing backdrop, it will be appropriate to let a new government tackle the problem as early as possible. Prime minister Narendra Modi has instilled confidence in the minds of the people by his visit to Srinagar and Siachen on Diwali, when he announced a package of measures to help the state tide over its problems. This positivity needs to be harnessed during the polls.
The challenge before the Election Commission and the central and state governments is to hold polls in a free and fair manner. Elections are anathema to those who have been clamouring for “azadi” at the behest of their masters who live across the border. The people of Kashmir had always trusted polls as a barometer of public opinion and had come forward to exercise their franchise. Groups inimical to India can certainly be expected to disrupt the polls. This is all the more reason that security is beefed up and parties and candidates are allowed to campaign freely so that the voters can make an informed choice.