Democracy of Denial in Kashmir

09 Sep, 2002    ·   854

Mehraj Hajini recounts Kashmir’s electoral history to explain why recent promises made by the Centre to restore democracy doesn’t mean anything for the Kashmiris

   The statements made by the “big Two” at the Centre that most elections in Kashmir were rigged and the brouhaha by Chief Minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah over these statements is not surprising for the people of Kashmir. They are fully aware that the corrupt, repressive, unpopular and inefficient governments installed on them by undemocratic means were the handiwork of the Central and State governments. Therefore, to level charges against each other for raping democracy in Kashmir and making promises to restore ‘real democracy’ does not hold any meaning for Kashmiris.

   The election history of Kashmir reveals that the process of rigging elections in the State began in 1951, under Shiekh Abdullah’s leadership. In these elections, all 75 seats in the State Constituent Assembly were captured by the National Conference. The elections were severity criticized, but the severest criticism came from the Praja Parishad Party and Pakistan. Rejecting them, both the Praja Parishad and Pakistan described them as a “Fraud and Farce”. Similarly, the National Conference, headed by Bakshi Gulam Mohammad ‘won’ 95 and 97 per cent of seats. In the elections of 1957 and 1962, the ruling party’s candidates were returned unopposed, in 43 and 47 seats respectively. Of the total 75, nominal contests were confined mostly to Jammu. When the international Press wrote, challenging the fairness of these election, Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru wrote to Bakhshi Gulam Mohammad after the 1962 polls, advising him to lose a few seats in future, so that the image of the world’s largest democracy is not tarnished. In the subsequent elections of 1967, 1972 and 1983 (leaving aside the elections of 1977, the sabotage of representative democracy was considered a normal practise.

   The 1987 elections marked a watershed in Kashmiri politics. The Muslim United Front (MUF), a broad coalition of political groups in the Valley, was formed to fight the National Conference-Congress alliance, and enjoyed massive public support in the Valley. It was defeated by dubious means. People who supported the MUF were convinced that the establishment of a MUF government would succeed in the eradication of corruption, nepotism, unemployment and poverty. They were also convinced that those bureaucrats and politicians, who had misused their official positions, would be punished. People also thought that it would exercise control over anti-social and anti-democratic activities and bring the state of Jammu and Kashmir on the track of progress and prosperity. 

   In the constituencies where elections were manipulated, polling agents of opposition candidates were arrested and beaten up publicly, not only by the police but also by the National Conference candidates. Almost all the MUF and their prominent supporters were arrested and detained under the public Safety Act. It was in prison that the five young men who started armed militancy in Kashmir in late 1989, decided to go to Pakistan administered Kashmir for military training and weapons. They were the active supporters of the MUF and close associates of Peer Mohammad Yousuf Shah, the present Supreme Commander of HM, who contested the 1987 Assembly elections from the Amara Kadal Constituency but was defeated.   

   An Indian correspondent discovered after militancy erupted in 1990 that, “Nearly all the young men on the wanted list today were guarding ballot-boxes for MUF as campaign volunteers in 1987.” Thus, the persistent policy of denying kashmiris democratic rights forced the youth to resort to the gun to settle scores. This is why the 1989, 1996 and 2001 Parliamentary, State Assembly and Panchayat elections proved a big flop. They were boycotted by the Kashmiri people because their faith in the sanctity of the ballot was completely shattered. Now they are demanding some special gesture from India, which has called for ‘free and fair polls’. How this will work in practice is known to every Kashmiri.