The District Development Council Elections in Jammu and Kashmir have the surreal impact of projecting business as usual. Nothing seems to have changed, and all is well, with the Bharatiya Janata Party holding its own in Jammu, the regional National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party allying in the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration to ‘win’ Kashmir, and the Congress locked in its usual struggle to just somehow survive.

It is as if there was no August 2019, and Jammu and Kashmir remains as a state with the same issues and the same problems as before the said date. That there has been no Abrogation of Article 370, no shift in the status of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, with the ‘state’ enjoying whatever little level of autonomy it had been allowed by successive governments from time to time.

Of course, yet again the legitimacy for the strong measures last year have been provided by the regional parties in alliance with the Congress, all now in the new avatar of unity under the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. In the process of course the polarisation has been kept intact with the BJP winning Jammu, and the Kashmir parties triumphing in the Valley in what is being projected by all now as a democratic, fair and good election.

Perhaps it was, perhaps it was not. In the past except for a couple of occasions elections in Jammu and Kashmir have not exactly been kosher, and there is no need to think otherwise now. A group of foreign journalists brought to ‘observe’ the elections have started writing of their experience with the New York Times questioning the tight control of the administration and the very fact that the people are under severe lockdown with a huge security presence.

Again nothing new, as such clampdowns have been prevalent as part of the chequered history of Jammu and Kashmir. Except that this time around observers are finding it impossible to gauge the extent of oppression within, and the impact of the clampdown not just on the morale of the people but also their psyche. It is a fact that huge protests in the past years have been forced off the roads, into their homes, through mass arrests and suppression, and there is little to suggest that all is well within.

However, while the six political parties in the Peoples Alliance have stood tall in Kashmir, and insist that this is a rejection of the BJP ---that has won three significant seats in Srinagar, Pulwama and Bandipora-- and support for them, the wheels within wheels that make up the Valley seem to contradict this claim. It is true that the vote was against BJP but it was certainly not for the Abdullahs and the Muftis who simply gained from the anti- sentiment. And in the process lost three seats which has allowed the BJP to one, hail the elections as its commitment to democracy and two, insist that the Abrogation of Article 370 has wide acceptance, not just in Jammu but also in Kashmir.

The leaders of the Peoples Alliance have been feeling the heat from the authorities of course. Of these the more reckless and perhaps to an extent independent Farooq Abdullah has the Enforcement Directorate snapping at his heels, while the PDP has felt the burns of a split. Many of the leaders in this coalition have worked well with the BJP in the past, and the new blanket has not been able to fully cover the mattress they lie on. This, despite the long house arrest which perhaps is the only reason why they have been able to contest the elections at all in Kashmir.

For a Delhi media that likes to interpret issues and statistics from the point of view of those in politics, perhaps a peoples perspective might provide fresh and real insights. The stories emerging from the Valley are of hardship and oppression, of fear and control, of arrests and specific targeting and of course of continuing encounters, lockdowns, clampdowns. Only a third of the registered voters in Kashmir cast their ballot. So what people the Peoples Alliance represents in the Valley is for these leaders to find out and inform us, for in their ability to do so will lie their ability to actually fight for their ambitious manifesto.

Suffice it to say, that the credibility of the BJP lies in Jammu where it has seen an actually positive vote. And the credibility of the Peoples Alliance is still up for grabs in Kashmir that remains its base in the highly polarised and communal scenario of Jammu and Kashmir. Despite the arrests and the tweets, the NC and the PDP have not been able to garner confidence amongst the peoples they claim to represent. And perhaps in that sense, as the old quote goes everything has changed, nothing has changed. David Bowie adds to it with his wonderful song, “Everything has changed
For in truth, it's the beginning of nothing
And nothing has changed
Everything has changed
For in truth, it's the beginning of an end
And nothing has changed
Everything has changed.”

Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR -