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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 14, April 1, 2023

Kashmir’s Trader Forum Polls Fosters Hope for Democracy | K Gireesan

Saturday 1 April 2023


by K Gireesan *

WHY SHOULD A commercial organisation’s elections be important? It is important because it heralds a change in the political process of democracy suspended in a geo-politically crucial region.

The socio-economic-political scenario changed in Jammu and Kashmir three years ago when Article 370 was abrogated and the special status of the State was removed by withdrawing Article 35A. It resulted in change of status of Jammu and Kashmir ‘from one State’ into two Union Territories with a single stroke of the pen by the Government of India. This raised protest within the State (now territories) and abroad, resulting in the union government suspending all democratic processes in the region for three long years.

The analysis is limited only to a few signals captured from the Kashmir valley that has the potential to enhance the faith and trust of the Kashmiris in the revival of democratic practices. The positive signs coming from the valley in which the traders have been allowed to elect their democratic body after a period of three years is no doubt significant and can perhaps be viewed as a ray of hope in the revival of democratic traditions and institutions, leading to the deepening of democracy in the days ahead.

Major Concerns

For many citizens, that include persons from Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh regions, who were not ‘so much interested, inclined, motivated, aware, and active’ in politics, it was the change in the political status of the region — the change from a ‘Federal State’ in which the natives had a great say in the administration, to a ‘Union Territory’ that is ruled by the representatives of the ‘Union Government’ in Delhi — did matter a lot.

 My multiple travels in the region since 5 Aug 2019, made me aware of this local concern, mostly from Jammu and Kashmir valley. I had first visited Kashmir in 2009, as part of a field visit for a rapid evaluation of youth development programmes in Jammu, Poonch and Rajouri districts. When compared with my observations a decade ago, the differences in perceptions at different temporal contexts were very much evident to me following my 2019 visit. Personal interactions with the native Kashmiris — irrespective of demographic diversities and geographical representation from different regions — only enhanced the conviction that more than the abrogation of Article 370, the change in political status of the region affected their sentiments severely. Even the staunchest supporters of the ruling regime at Delhi could not mask their unhappiness over the ‘reduction in political status’. The stonewalling of their repeated attempts to revive the democratic practices in the region through different bodies, forums and levels only added salt to their woes. It is in this context that the conduct of democratic elections to the traders’ body in Kashmir becomes very important and is being analysed here to focus on the slow political achievement.

Conduct of Elections to the KCCI

Elections for various civil society organisation in Kashmir, including the traders’ body, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), has not been held since August 2019. For the last three years, the administration, now the union government, has dragged its feet over allowing the democratic process from taking place, citing security concerns. Kashmir valley was always an enigma for many who were concerned with the revival of democratic conventions, stabilising the democratic practices and strengthening of the democratic institutions in the region, due to its special status. It was never looked at like all the other States in the Indian union, not even like other union territories like Nagar Haveli or Puducherry.

It is for the first time since the Union Government ended the special constitutional position to Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 that the region on 21 February 2023 witnessed elections to 21 posts in the valley’s oldest traders’ body, the 89-year-old Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI). There were 42 candidates in the fray for electing a 21-member Executive Committee and a President and Vice President of the KCCI.

Thus, on 21 Feb this year, the 1094 registered voters of the KCCI exercised their democratic right of electing their representatives through a smooth and systematic process of election, held under the strict vigil of the UT administration. Mohammad Aijaz, the Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar and Assistant Commissioner-Revenue supervised the process of elections, the Kashmir News Observer noted. Out of all the candidates, the highest number of votes was secured by Akib Chaya with 453 votes, followed by Umar Nazir Tibatbaqal with 444 votes (Greater Kashmir, 2023).

The President and Vice President of KCCI were elected in its first round of voting. Javid Ahmad Bhat (Tenga) was elected president of the traders’ body and Ashaq Hussain Shangloor and Fayaz Ahmad Punjabi were elected as the senior vice president and junior vice president respectively. The Executive Committee elected Faiz Ahmad Bakshi as secretary general and Umar Nazir Tibetbagal as the treasurer (Kashmir Life, 2023).

Changes in Government Strategy

The conduct of elections to the traders’ body demonstrates a gradual change in the approach of the Jammu and Kashmir UT Administration towards civil society groups and elected bodies in the valley. It could also be viewed as a change in strategy to usher in democratic practices in the region incrementally, in line with the verbal assurances given by the union Home minister few months ago. According to Sheikh Ashiq, former president of KCCI, ‘the KCCI has always retained the democratic traditions and the people of valley had lot of expectations from the traders’ body’. He was quick to recall the significant contributions made by the KCCI during the flash floods in the valley in 2014.

Smooth conduct of elections to KCCI, especially with the support of the administration, could be viewed as an important milestone in the revival of democratic institutions in the region. It manifests a change in the government mindset towards understanding the ‘psyche’ of the civil society in the region. It is expected that revival of democratic procedures will be taken up in the region by conduct of elections to the co-operative societies, High Court Bar Association, Press Club and other civil society organisations in the days ahead. To all those who are concerned with the deepening of democracy and revival of democratic practices in the paradise on earth, conduct of elections to KCCI is a ‘silver line’, undoubtedly raising a lot of hopes and expectations in the days to come. It is also important that democratic institutions are re-established and functional before the national elections takes place in 2024 or in the end of 2023.

* Author: K Gireesan is Director, MIT School of Government, MIT World Peace University, Kothrud, Pune — 411038; E-mail: gireesan.decentralisation[at]


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