SRINAGAR: There appears to be some extreme urgency on the part of certain quarters within Jammu and Kashmir and in Delhi to somehow hold the assembly elections at the earliest as the present state Assembly completes it tenure in December. These sections are either unaware of the real ground situation or have some other aim of capitalising on the present discomfiture of the people.

Kashmir has just gone through the most devastating floods in more than a century. The top most priority is to give succour to the traumatised people rather than force them virtually at the point of gun to partake in elections which anyway remain a controversial issue in the state. Apart from a couple of times, t most of the elections are alleged by some to be sham elections. Generally the 1977 election held under Janata rule is supposed to have been fair and widely participated. No doubt elections are an integral part of a democratic set up and give an opportunity to the people to choose their representatives to govern them yet these need a conducive atmosphere to be free and fair.

Thousands of people comprising the social and intellectual elite of Srinagar who had been living in the posh colonies are out of their traditional homes living with relatives or in rented houses. Thousands upon thousands of poor people are virtually living on the roadside in tents and are scared about the bone chilling winter on its way. They have to be properly housed to face the rigours of the popularly known chillai kalaan, the dreaded period of freeze during December-January in Kashmir’s winter. Agriculture and horticulture has taken a direct hit and the loss is in thousands of crores. Trade and commerce has virtually ceased and only a semblance of it has been revived so far by the efforts of the local people. Tourism has gone for a six as the “Paradise on Earth” has been lost! The Government is busy in shuffling and reshuffling bureaucracy and police. Other day the State’s Finance Minister had to hurriedly leave a meeting being held with the Minister in Prime Minister’s Office due to the angry outburst of the local people present there against him. Some of the district officers are reported to have been manhandled by the people in their offices for tardy relief and rehabilitation measures!

Incidentally, the State Chief Minister has been forcefully pleading for the postponement of the elections. However, his reasons are totally different. He is sure of the stark reality that this flood is going to prove a nemesis not only for him but the party he represents and they are bound to lose on every count. The incompetence and criminal negligence during his tenure had already wiped out his party during the parliamentary elections when even his father lost the prestigious constituency of Srinagar. The “Flood” has swept away whatever good he may have done earlier. He himself admitted on TV that his government had disappeared with the flood! There are already allegations that there is bungling in relief distribution. Every day local newspapers report flood relief being distributed among non-flood affected people. Schools are being opened even without providing safe alternative accommodation. Such activities are being indulged in to show that the state government is capable of restoring normalcy. Healthcare, with most of the hospitals declared unsafe or not being fully functional, is virtually in shambles. Everyone should thank his stars that the flood came just before the approaching winter as otherwise a number of epidemics would have broken out by now!

The top most priority at the moment is to take out people from the shock and trauma of the disaster they have just faced. They not only need physical rehabilitation but psychological reassurance both for their future safety and their means of livelihood. This can be done by initiating a massive programme of restoration and rehabilitation through dedicated, honest and dynamic machinery headed by an upright person. Delhi is capable of initiating such a step but unfortunately, it has always dithered in the past whenever such an opportunity had risen. This dithering has been the main cause of prolonging the alienation of the people. The unusually lukewarm attitude of the Central Government including the hesitation in declaring Kashmir flood as a national calamity has already started creating doubts in the minds of the people whether Delhi is sincere about helping them in this hour of need?

Thus, the urgent need is to go in for massive restoration and rehabilitation programme with national and international assistance through dedicated and honest people rather than put the entire administrative machinery into election mode thereby leaving them in the lurch in view of the fast approaching winter.

The elections could be held during June next year after regaining the lost “Paradise”. At the present moment it will be a foolhardy exercise.

(M. Ashraf is a former Director General, Jammu and Kashmir Tourism)