After a week of violent protests in India-administered Kashmir over a controversial land transfer to a Hindu shrine, Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has resigned from his post, plunging the state into a political crisis.
Assembly elections were held in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002
Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has officially resigned from his post. The announcement came shortly before Azad was supposed to face a crucial confidence vote in the 89-member legislative assembly.
Azad’s Congress government had been reduced to a minority after its key coalition ally People’s Democratic Party (PDP) withdrew support. Governor’s rule will now temporarily prevail in Jammu and Kashmir till elections are held at the end of the year.
Protests against transfer of land to Hindu trust
Trouble for the Congress-led coalition began when it decided to transfer 40 hectares of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, the trust that organises the annual pilgrimage to the sacred Hindu mountain shrine. This sparked violent protests across the state by Muslims who accused the government of trying to change the demographic structure in the state by bringing more Hindus into the region. At least six people were killed and hundreds injured in the protests that lasted over a week.
Congress loses key ally
Following these state-wide protests, the state Cabinet formally revoked the land transfer a week ago. But the damage had already been done. The Congress party’s key ally People’s Democratic Party (PDP) withdrew support from the coalition, although it had been part of the Cabinet decision.
PDP President Mehbooba Mufti says that the party only agreed because the Congress assured the PDP that it would not transfer property rights to the Shrine Board. She says that the land was supposed to be given temporarily on rent to the board, but the Shrine Board chief publicly announced that it had property rights.
"That’s when our ministers pointed out to Ghulam Nabi Azad that since he was claiming property rights, that was not the real picture, and we asked him to revoke the order," says Mufti.
Congress left to prove majority in assembly
PDP’s withdrawal from the coalition left the Congress government in a minority. The state’s governor N.N. Vohra then asked the Congress to prove its majority in the legislative assembly. With poor chances of winning a confidence vote, Ghulam Nabi Azad decided to step down.
Azad’s resignation has left the state in a political crisis. The agitation will severely affect the voting percentage in the upcoming poll, says Bashir Manzar, poltical analyst and editor-in-chief of the daily Kashmir Images.
According to Manzar, there was a general expectation that there would be a higher voter participation in the elections this year, but the nine days of agitation have changed the entire scenario. "Nobody is interested in talking about elections now. If elections are held in October, which is the scheduled month, the polling percentage will be much lower than was expected," says Manzar.
Focus on communal harmony
PDP president Mufti says that the focus in Kashmir should not be on electoral results, but on addressing the regional tensions on the ground and restoring communal harmony. "That should be our first priority. Electoral politics is something that we can think about later on, but first we should think about the situation on the ground," says Mufti.
The political landscape in Kashmir seems bleak at the moment. The agitations on the issue have eroded the support bases of both the Congress and the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir and contributed to the strong anti-India sentiment prevailing among the public.