Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Election 2008

What has poll participation to do with the demand of freedom and Kashmir issue. Voting, people affirm, is for development not for politics, comments Naseer A Ganai.

In June this year one million people were on the roads demanding freedom from India. A million people marched throughout the length and breadth of Kashmir and Muslim dominated districts of Jammu despite heavy military presence. New Delhi had presumed that the freedom sentiment has died in Kashmir, and if people would be allowed to protest, no one would come out. The State Government thought on the same lines. It allowed people to protest, presuming it would be the last nail in the coffin of separatism in Kashmir.
But when people flooded the streets of Kashmir, government found itself caught off guard. And in New Delhi mainstream intellectuals supported freedom of Kashmir. Sawaminathan Aiyar broke the path, and the rest followed. Twenty years after the Government had allowed people to come on the streets, people vent their frustration, anger and desperation on the roads of Kashmir with Ragdha, Ragdha and pro-freedom and pro-Pakistan slogans. 
For the last five months government took stern measures and didn't allow people to move out or open their mouth. Those who did were booked under preventive detention. It succeeded in containing the people and even conducted, what it says, "successful elections." Now when the State has conducted successful elections, will it ever provide slight room to Kashmiris, and allow them to come out to express themselves on the streets of Kashmir again. The day state does it and allows the people shout whatever they want to, that day would make the difference.

Development and voting:
Every person, who was in the polling queue, told the media persons that he was voting for the development and employment. Even on Doordarshan Srinagar, that telecasts the long queues of the people outside the polling stations, everyday people are talking about bad roads, lack of infrastructure and above all, unemployment.
If the argument of people who cast their votes in recently concluded "70-phase" elections be taken at their face value, then it speaks volumes about 60 year rule of the Government of India in Kashmir. Sixty years after, India has not only failed to resolve the Kashmir issue but it has even utterly failed to raise the basic infrastructure in Kashmir. In his first election campaign in Budgam, the National Conference president Omar Abdullah echoed the same views when he said if Hurriyat Conference assures him that they would provide roads, electricity, unemployment, drinking water to people, he would not participate in the elections. Omar talked about de-linking of Kashmir issue from the elections. The statement of Omar speaks volumes about claims of huge investment in Kashmir. If the Government of India has invested in Kashmir, it should disclose the area where it has invested. Find out a road that has been completed. There is no drainage that is properly working. Srinagar city is sinking. The drinking water facility is not available in thousands of areas in rural areas.
The voter has given the democratic verdict on the claims of the Government of India that it has done nothing in Kashmir. It has exposed the massive development-funds myth forever.
But the question arises: does that mean Kashmiris would get any benefit following the massive participation in the electoral exercise, as the Government of India would repeat the past assertion that the voting of Kashmiris is the negation of the UN resolution on Kashmir which calls for right to self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir. In past it has been seen the areas where people have not voted, they have been denied the benefits like roads, electricity and employment opportunities. People in many areas argued that they didn't vote in 2002 and had to pay heavy price for it as the local MLA or Minister denied them an audience when they approached them. It could be argued that for last six years subtle administrative coercion was on display and the pro-India leaders reaped its benefits this time. Besides, the pro-India leaders were successful to put the point across that the development and resolution to Kashmir issue were two different issues and should not be related. It seems people bought the argument.
Besides, the State knew how to play the game, and it played it aptly. The government allowed a number of candidates to contest. It is not intriguing why so many candidates were in the fray. The number of the candidates allowed the Government enough room to play its game. It divided the people in rural areas. There were family loyalties as well. Initially, in Bandipora and Sonawari in the first phase relatives and friends and neighbors and beneficiaries came out to the vote. Others followed them. The villagers had apprehension that if "other candidate" of neighboring candidate wins, what would happen to them, and so they came out to vote for "their candidate" for the obvious reasons. It set the trend and the rest is history. Some analysts in Kashmir believe that huge number of people came out to vote hoping the new government would provide them government jobs. And if the next government, they argue, fail to provide the jobs, it could pave way for another revolution. Will it? It has to be seen.
Besides, rightly presuming that there would be less participation in the elections, New Delhi tried hard to make the election process inclusive. It succeeded, except in Srinagar. In August and September Kashmir was on the roads demanding freedom from India. The state government subdued people by launching massive crackdown. There were arrests, preventive detentions, press gag and undeclared curfews. New Delhi had a goal in Kashmir—to bring what it calls democratic process "back in Kashmir." To achieve the same, it used all undemocratic and unfair means including so far unheard "undeclared curfew" in Kashmir. In Sikh rule Jamia Mosque remained closed for some period. Now in democratic India in 2008, Jamia Mosque remained closed consecutively for eight Fridays, prompting Mirwaiz Umar to say that he would issue a Fatwa against the Government. But New Delhi remained unconcerned.

India and UN:
In Kashmir it was not the first time that the voting has taken place. It has taken place in the past and it has not changed the status of Kashmir dispute. Sir B N Rao, who represented India in Security Council in 50s, had assured Council that Kashmir Assembly's decision in regard to Accession issue would in no way hamper the policy pursued by India. "You (assembly) may express an opinion but you can take no decision on Accession." Now when New Delhi has reposed the faith on the UN and the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he expects that Pakistan should follow UN resolution passed after Mumbai terror attacks. So how could New Delhi ignore the UN resolutions or promises it has made to the UN regarding Kashmir?  The UN resolutions are binding on the nations, whether passed in 50s or in 2008.
There were decisions taken by the State assembly. The autonomy resolution passed by the National Conference government was the biggest ever decision taken by the State assembly after in 1953. The Government of India didn't respond to the political decision of "elected government.' It disdainfully rejected it. Thus conveying in clear terms what the Assembly stands for. So those who argue that the people have cast vote for the development have some weight in their argument. New Delhi would be committing another blunder if it starts parroting elections process as end of Kashmir issue as advocated by Praveen Swami. Swami in his article in the Hindu (December 23) first justified the coercion of Army in 1996 elections and 2002 elections, saying it was in response to call of militants, and then describes the elections as biggest triumph and asks New Delhi to engage "multiple voices it will contain, rather than reach out once more to secessionist leadership that has been humiliated by the people it claims to represent."
But he forgets that in Kashmir neither the PDP nor the National Conference, not even the Congress had sought vote on pro-India agenda. PDP sought the vote for development, and on Muslim agenda. It is the first party in Kashmir which has accused of being minority (read Hindu) communalism in Kashmir and talked about rights of majority (read Muslims). The Congress despite being a National Party didn't dare to seek vote for India. It sought vote for development.  So no one sought vote here for India, or accession with India. No one shouted slogans in favour of India. So drawing conclusion it was pro-India vote and that New Delhi should not talk to pro-freedom leadership amounts to ignoring the ground reality.
In Pulwama district there was fair voting and people did vote despite the killing of Kashmir University student in Koil in anti-election protest. But some days later, when security forces killed a Hizb militant Rais Kachroo, thousands of people came out to participate in his Nemazi Jenza (last rites). They didn't care they had voted the other day. The distinction between the voting and resolution of Kashmir dispute has to be made to find the solution of Kashmir issue. The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly should in no way come in between.


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