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GOWHAR GEELANI | 12 DECEMBER, 2014

Jammu And Kashmir, The Graveyard of Reputations

For once the gun and the blockade did not stop the voters in Jammu and Kashmir


SRINAGAR: The unpredictably higher voter turnout in the first three phases of Jammu & Kashmir Assembly Elections has stirred a debate in intellectual and academic circles whether the space is fast shrinking for resistance politics? And whether the people in Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley are making a conscious political decision not to ignore issues related to local governance, administration and development while chasing their larger political aspirations?

Or does the reality lies somewhere else?

In the third phase of the Assembly Polls-2014, according to the Election Commission of India (ECI), about 58% voters exercised their franchise held in 16 constituencies in the Kashmir Valley. Charar-i-Sharief assembly segment recorded the highest turnout of 82.14 per cent. About 70% cast their vote in the first phase of the elections across 15 assembly segments while 71 per cent voters participated in the second phase of polling held in 18 segments.

Such a high voting percentage must indeed be intimidating for the separatist camp that had called for a boycott of the elections.

But this is only one side of the story.

The other side is that these elections are being held in a militarized Kashmir where half-a-million Indian troops are stationed to suppress dissent and where all possible democratic space for resistance politics is choked in an organized manner in complete understanding and collaboration with the security establishment and intelligence agencies.

Pro-freedom Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), whose ailing chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik is lodged in a jail in South Kashmir Anantnag to thwart his poll boycott campaign, describes the electoral process as a “farce” and a “military exercise”.

“Farce elections cannot change our path and passion for freedom,” the JKLF claims in its latest press release.

In between these two sides lies another layer that perhaps doesn’t hog the headlines or attract much media attention. And that is, have the separatists in Kashmir conceded their fortresses to soft-separatist ideology of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a party which makes tall claims of safeguarding Kashmir’s national interest, both political as well as economic, and simultaneously address the issues of governance too?

After September floods—the worst in Kashmir’s living memory— hardly any political pundit would have predicted such enthusiastic participation in the assembly polls primarily because of three important reasons: One, the elections were scheduled during extreme weather conditions (cold November and even chillier December);

Two, more than half of summer capital Srinagar and parts of South Kashmir got completely flooded for about three weeks and therefore people’s first priority was to save lives, rebuild and reconstruct;

Three, the failure of the National Conference-led coalition government in dealing with the flood crisis could have forced a situation wherein people might have lost complete faith in their local political representatives. As the civil administration was conspicuous with its absence from the scene and the state apparatus failing on many counts, thousands of Kashmiri families got displaced and forced to live like refugees in their own land.

But, as they say, Kashmir is a graveyard of reputations. All educated and wild analysis about election participation went horribly wrong. Ignoring passionate calls for boycott and braving the chilly weather, the people of Kashmir came in large numbers to vote, to the surprise of everyone including policy makers and think tanks based in New Delhi.

People made long serpentine queues outside the polling booths to cast vote. The election boycott campaign by the JKLF and Syed Ali Shah Geelani led All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) failed to show a tangible effect on the ground. It seemed as if their passionate appeals for boycott fell on deaf ears.

Why did this happen? How did this happen? And what does it mean?

First, the undemocratic state government and its security apparatus didn’t allow the resistance leadership to run the election boycott campaign and once more demonstrated its inability to tolerate dissent. The government choked space for any democratic opposition to electoral process. No two opinions about this.

Two, Kashmir’s resistance leaders also didn’t get their act together and were unwilling to show any flexibility to review and revisit their boycott strategy. After seeing the relatively low voter turnout in the Indian Parliamentary elections in the middle of this year, they perhaps got too carried away and complacent. They congratulated the Kashmiris for paying heed to their boycott call and miscalculated the stark difference between issues relevant in relation to parliamentary and assembly polls.

And the third, perhaps the most important point, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s aggressive and scary Mission 44+ played a role and threw a serious challenge to the Kashmiris to react in time.

Another factor perhaps was the NC’s dismal six year rule, maladministration, mis-governance and corruption of scandals.

All said and done, once all the five election phases are over and results made public there would be an opportunity for analysts and future historians to adjudicate whether people’s decision to participate in these elections in large numbers could be referred to as “political maturity”, a clear signal of resistance against Hindu nationalism and aggressive BJP politics or simply “greed” and “opportunism”.

They will also have to figure out whether the space for separatist politics is indeed shrinking in modern Kashmir? Whether this huge participation is yet another wake-up call for the resistance leadership to revisit their strategies? Whether this is another chance for New Delhi to learn its lessons and address the larger political problem to end the status quo in Jammu & Kashmir?

Too many questions. Not too many easy answers.

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