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“Elections” in Kashmir

Junaid S. Ahmad
Date Published: 
February 14, 2003

The Indian government’s organizing of an elaborate exercise of “democratic elections” in Jammu and Kashmir began on September 15. Hundreds of thousands of army soldiers and paramilitary forces were deployed to ensure “free and fair elections.” Diplomatic staff of various European and North American powers moved to Sirinagar, the capital of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOC), as “international observers” to certify that the elections would not be rigged this time, unlike practically every election in the past. The desperation of the Indian state to obtain this certification and to restore the credibility of elections could be gauged by the call of the Chief Election Commissioner Lyngdoh to the armed forces that they should “not force people to vote at gunpoint,” as has been the case in past elections in the Kashmir Valley. The month-long, four-phase election in Kashmir was completed on October 8. The result ended the National Conference (NC) party’s half-century near monopoly over Kashmiri politics. The NC’s previous two-thirds majority was slashed to 28 seats in the 87-seat legislature, spelling, at least temporarily, an end to the political dynasty started by Sheik Abdullah, which was carried on by his son, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, and grandson, 32-year-old Omar Abdullah, who is also a foreign minister in the right-wing Hindu nationalist Indian government. Omar Abdullah, the party’s president and candidate for chief minister, lost his seat. The NC’s next two nearest competitors, the Congress Party and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), secured just 20 and 16 seats respectively. The elections (in which official statistics boasted a 44% voter turnout) were hailed by the Indian and international media as a “positive development” and a “victory of democracy.” The former US ambassador has gone on record as saying that the first round of polls in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) show that “India is committed to holding free, fair and inclusive elections in J&K without violence.” But even before the second round of elections could take place, scores of people were reported to have been killed and injured in clashes with the army and security forces. More than 700 people have been killed, including two candidates and 84 political organizers, since India called the election on August 2. Political arrangement A Congress-PDP political arrangement has been worked out, and is perhaps destined to prove even more difficult than a Congress-BJP coalition (the latter being the ruling party in India, which has a small number of seats in the Kashmir Assembly). True, the Congress party differs from the BJP in that it does not call for scrapping Article 370, which upholds Kashmir’s special autonomous status, nor does it subscribe to the idea of “trifurcating” Jammu and Kashmir along religious lines. But it is during the four decades of Congress rule at the Indian center that Article 370 was systematically subverted and reduced to a crumpled piece of paper. On the other hand, the PDP, in spite of its roots in Congress’s history, could carve out a space for itself in the Valley by raising such “taboo” issues as state repression and human rights violations. The party could, for example, demand the disbanding of the notoriously vicious Special Operations Group, and call for the initiation of unconditional talks with both the militants and Pakistan. It is seems likely, though, that whatever the outcome of the ongoing political maneuvering, it will not contribute to the solution of the Kashmir problem in a democratic way. Indian state terrorism that has led to the slaughter of 80,000 people in the Kashmir Valley in the last 13 years and the might of 750,000-strong armed forces and paramilitary “terror squads” have failed to quell the fighting spirit of the Kashmiri people. All the parties involved in the conflict—the Indian state, the Pakistani state, the forces in Kashmir in favor of elections and the forces in Kashmir opposed to the elections—will always claim “victory.” However, the people of Kashmir will remain precisely where they were—deprived of the right to self-determination, partitioned against their will, and forced to live in constant fear under the jackboots of the Indian armed forces.