Srinagar: After the devastation caused by the worst floods in 50 years in Jammu and Kashmir, can assembly elections be held this year on schedule? Will it be politically wise and administratively prudent?
The country's only Muslim-majority state, yet to recover from the terrible all-round destruction, appears to be divided across the spectrum on this issue. All mainstream political parties favour elections this year, the sole exception being the ruling National Conference.
More than 1.5 million people have been directly affected by the floods that caused havoc to public and private property, commercial establishments and infrastructure, besides killing 281 civilians in the state.
The worst beating was taken by the main commercial hubs of Srinagar and its most posh residential areas while more people died in the Jammu region.
Homes are still abandoned and people are living in relief camps -- not only because of the floods but also due to the unprecedented targeting of civilian areas by Pakistan troops along the border.
This has rendered over 30,000 residents of border villages homeless. They are putting up in relief camps set up in areas not vulnerable to Pakistani shelling and firing.
The state government has sent a flood loss memo of Rs.44,000 crore to the central government.
"Don't blame me tomorrow if there is no voting in the assembly elections in the Kashmir Valley if these are not deferred," Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has warned.
Abdullah is battling with the biggest challenge of his political career -- providing relief to thousands of flood-hit families.
The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) says the elections are a compulsion that must be faced.
"You need a stable government with a clear six-year mandate to undertake the massive relief and rehabilitation exercise. A lame duck government that has come to the end of its road cannot do it," said PDP spokesperson Naeem Akhtar.
While the separatist groups oppose the elections on expected lines, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Panthers Party and the Congress favour holding elections on schedule.
Politicians apart, most people feel it would be callous to hold the elections now.
"Doesn't it mean that pushing through the election process is the top priority of the central government?" asked Anantnag town resident Abdul Salam, 57, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement on the issue.
"Who will vote when lives have been devastated and people are far from even coming out of the shock," he said.
Others feel that holding elections now would mean putting the relief and rehab agenda on the backburner.
"Everybody in the government will be busy with facilitating the elections. Relief and rehabilitation will be forgotten at least till a new government takes office next year," said Nisar Hussain, a retired chief engineer whose home in uptown Gogjibagh here was damaged by the floods.
The poor also do not favour elections on schedule.
"Tensions always start building up when elections are announced; and announcing them now is bad news for ordinary people like me," said Mushtaq Ahmad, 31, a pavement vendor in Srinagar.
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has directed insurance companies to pay as interim relief 95 percent of insured amount to flood victims whose insured value is up to Rs.25 lakh and 50 percent to those whose insurance exceeds Rs.25 lakh.
The Supreme Court has rejected a plea by the insurance companies against the high court ruling.
Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath and commissioners H.S. Brahma and Naseem Zaida will visit the state Oct 18-19 to take stock of the flood situation.
After a meeting in New Delhi Oct 20, the poll panel will take a final decision on the Kashmir elections.