The elections to the 87 member assembly of the state of Jammu & Kashmir were held in seven phases stretching over two months. These elections resulted in none of the partis gaining a majority. The National Conference emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats and the Peoples Democratic Party followed with 22 seats. A post election alliance of the National Conference and the Congress Party has been forged to form the government. The Peoples Democratic Party, which was earlier in government in alliance with the Congress, has now been declared as the principal opposition party.
Why were these elections held? What were they expected to solve?
It is known that the people of the Kashmir Valley (a major portion of the state of Jammu & Kashmir) have for long been asserting their right to self determination. They call it the struggle for Azadi. While they have never given up asserting this right ever since the accession of the Maharajah of Jammu & Kashmir to the Indian Union in 1948, the struggle for Azadi has been very sharp in the past two decades, since 1987. This struggle has manifested itself both in peaceful mass protests, as well as in armed resistance struggles. The Indian state has used the barrel of the gun, murder, rape and torture, to try to snuff out the aspirations of the people for self determination. It is estimated that nearly one lakh people in the Kashmir Valley have been murdered by the Indian armed forces in this period. Over 7 lakh troops, nearly 60% of the armed forces of the Union, are on active deployment in this state charged with the task of crushing the people and preventing them from asserting their right to self determination.
Within these conditions, the Indian state has organised periodic elections in the state under the shadow of the gun, to bring so called elected governments to power. These governments have little or no power as in fact it is the Centre that rules through the army and the governor. This is the same case as in many states in the North East. Army rule and Central rule is sought to be legitimised by having periodic elections and forming elected governments in these states.
The Indian state claims that the problem in Kashmir is Pakistan. The whole struggle in Kashmir is portrayed as one between the states of Pakistan and India as to who should rule over Kashmir. Kashmiris have, however, been fighting for the right to self determination, for the right to rule themselves. The struggle of Kashmiris for self determination is illegitmised by declaring it as “terrorist”, as Pak-sponsored, and so on. Both the Pakistani and Indian states have left no stone unturned to manipulate and discredit the struggle of Kashmiri people, both by direct armed intervention, and the setting up of various state sponsored terror groups.
The current round of elections have followed mass protests for Azadi in the summer, in which lakhs of people participated. They have been held by the Indian state to show to the world that it enjoys legitimacy in the state, and to the people of Kashmir that it will brook no opposition to its rule. In the wake of the elections, propaganda on a big scale was conducted by the Indian state and propagated through the major news media that these elections were a great “success”, that the people of Kashmir had showed through their votes that they rejected the path of militant struggle for Azadi. However, the actual facts show otherwise. They show that the authorities went to desperate lengths to ensure that people voted. Every effort was also made to crush the voices of dissent.
The leaders of the Hurriyat Conference, which had given a call for the boycott for elections, were put under house arrest throughout the entire two month period of the elections. Hundreds of others were arrested and still remain under arrest. Protest rallies organised by youth opposed to the elections were fired upon, killing many. In the rural areas, army personnel went to the villagers and applied pressure on them to go out to vote. As in the past, it has been reported that in many booths, the army was ‘helping’ people in pressing the buttons. Human rights activists monitoring the elections were brutally beaten up by the armed forces. Journalists were attacked, detained and threatened by security forces, provoking condemnations from organizations such as Reporters Without Borders. According to local media, curbs were imposed on their reporting well before the elections, and only the Press Trust of India was allowed in the election booths.
In this “democratic” election, public assemblies were banned. Life in the Valley was crippled for days on end by draconian curfew orders, to the point that for nearly two months, Friday prayers could not be offered in Srinagar’s largest mosque. Srinagar was under curfew till two days before elections in the town! The seven stage elections enabled the armed forces to concentrate all their firepower on the areas that were going to the polls, while curfew was imposed on the other six areas to ensure no threat to law and order. As one observer put it, “Kashmir was like a tiger’s cage this election season, in which the caretakers close the part of the cage that needs cleaning or when food has to be put in”. Such was the manner of conduct of these elections.
A particular feature of these elections, was the effort by the Indian state to bolster the “participatory image” by going all out to ensure an increase in the number of candidates participating in the elections. There were 751 candidates in the Kashmir region contesting for 46 seats, of a total of 1354 for the state as a whole. The number of candidates per seat was much more than in a state like Delhi, and as compared to percentage of population, it was far higher! It has been remarked that a major portion of the increase in the number of candidates is attributable to the special efforts of the Indian state and its intelligence agencies. Following the elections, seven candidates belonging to the Samata Party blew the whistle and declared that they had agreed to contest the elections for monetary gains of Rs 5 lakh each promised by the Party leadership at the behest of “intelligence agencies”.
Meanwhile, around 300 defeated candidates in the Valley have joined hands to form a “Peoples Action Committee” which has alleged that the elections were stage managed and rigged. “We were treated like tissue paper, used and thrown off”, said Mufti Nazim ud din, of the Save Srinagar Front, according to the Indian Express.
It is thus that 51% of the people are said to have voted in the Kashmir region, higher than the 46% claim in 1996. In Srinagar, the Election Commission figures show that just 20% voted. The Indian state has made out that these elections were basically a contest between its own rule and the hold of militant groups in the Valley. The tremendous problems and hardships being undergone by the people of that state, the tragedy of the countless lives lost and families ruined because of the prolonged rule of the Central state and its armed forces – none of this is of any concern. Now that the elections are over, and a new government is in place, the issue remains as before: How is the rule of the armed forces, the rule of Central state, in Kashmir to be endet? How to ensure that the people control their own destiny? The elections have not resolved these problems.