State Assembly Elections in Indian-administered Kashmir: People’s Participation a Strategy or Paradigm Shift.
State assembly elections 2014 in Indian administered Jammu Kashmir have glimmered a manic deliberation among the parties to the conflict and stakeholders. Indian media and politicians at Delhi and elsewhere in the country are depicting the participation of ordinary masses in the vale of Kashmir as a trust building notion on the Union of India and rejection of separatist sentiments. Pakistani media on the other hand remained both unconcerned and silent or repeated the same rhetoric of yellow journalism. Kashmir based analysts and activists are twisting the story that fits best in their pre-occupied state of mind. The reality is that after almost three decades of boycotts, strikes and shutdowns Kashmiri people decided to vote instead of boycott. Some intellectuals and writers are taking it as an abrupt decision and others are debating it as a dissatisfactory notion from the state of affairs Kashmiri people have been going through since 1988.
What basically happened has its roots in the past, political evolution, experimental judgment and revisited wisdom. It definitely involves the role of Hurriyat Conference/other separatist factions, lessons learned from militancy and a series of boycotts, role of Pakistani establishment and that of Indian government. Understanding the linkages between past and present situations in the valley of Kashmir is absolutely basic for a good understanding of the events and chain of the events that, in a nutshell, is why history matters. Finding a linkage with past and present is not only useful rather it is an essential part in understanding the social, economic and political attitudes and beliefs in a constituency. The glance of the past is essential for ‘rooting’ people, ideas, movements and events in time. Does it really matter to find the correct answer? The answer is yes it is. Because without finding the correct answer only speculations cannot put the course of “what we are today” in the right perspective.
Elections 2014 of the state assembly in Indian Occupied Jammu Kashmir have initiated a new chapter in the political panorama of the region. A decade of off-and-on detente between India and Pakistan has drawn to a close after months of deteriorating relations that began with the election victory in May 2014 of the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party and the appointment as India’s Prime Minister of a noted hard-liner, Narendra Modi. Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi after had already triumphed in a landslide victory across India in the general elections held in the spring of 2014 is continuously altering the political map of Indian Union by winning the elections held for various state assemblies (constituents of Indian Union). Prime Minister Modi has decided to take that heat to the state of Jammu Kashmir to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiri people.
It is chilling winter in Kashmir where some parts are so cold just like frozen Siberia. Glaciers of Himalayas are melting down due to the political heat and participation of Kashmiri people in the elections after almost three decades. People in the valley who were accustomed to the calls of boycott and shut down calls from both the pro-freedom and pro-Pakistan leadership and in practice have sacrificed their daily means of bread and butter in solidarity with the anti-India leadership since 1987. But in 2014 the corridor of political venue has altered the paintings on the Kashmiri canvas. Instead of shutter down and wheel jam strikes lenses of both electronic and print media are capturing the live enthusiasm of people participation in the electoral process.
This apparent shift in the valley raises some serious concerns as well as some lessons to be learned. Indian state-owned media is propagating the events as a paradigm shift in the Kashmiri politics while Pakistani media is silent on the electoral process of Indian held Kashmir. The politicians across Jammu Kashmir are interpreting the events well in accordance with their pre-occupied state of mind and trying to concrete and cement their long-held opinions on the very issue.
One should not analyse the current political activities particularly in the vale of Kashmir as an abrupt outbreak. Rather a series of events have led the ordinary masses in the valley to come out in enormous numbers to cast their votes without knowing the pros and cons of their activity. Back in March of 1987, when the state assembly elections were held in Indian occupied Jammu Kashmir, opposing elements of status-quo created an enthusiasm among the charged youth by contesting the elections under the banner of a communal Muslim United Front (MUF). MUF lost the assembly elections amid malpractices and rigging by the coalition of Indian National Congress and National Conference. Muslim youth of the valley refused to co-operate with the installed administration favouring Indian version of democracy in Jammu Kashmir. In this environment defeated elements of MUF started claiming that they had been denied democratic rights illegally and began justifying a recourse to other methods. The politically charged environment of the valley and a sense of resentment provided political economy to the policy makers at Islamabad, who were already searching a new battle field to engage the laid off militants after the withdrawal of Soviet Union from Afghanistan. It was in this environment that Pakistan capitalized and encouraged the Kashmiri youth to come across the border and receive arms training to begin an armed movement. A faction of nationalist Kashmiris from Pakistani occupied Kashmir provided its shoulders to establishment in Islamabad in launching the armed militancy in Valley without considering the fact that the guns and bullets they are borrowing could harm the nationalist aspirations. Soon after the initiation of armed struggle in valley human eyes began witnessing the huge crowds of public sympathy for the idea of creating a new nation state or restoring the lost independent status of former state of Jammu Kashmir across Line of Control. At this juncture policy makers at Islamabad entered the laid off militant warriors into the Kashmiri soil and altered the corridor of movement from a Kashmir centric secular movement to the rhetoric of a religious holy war.
This practice of hired guns continued for a longer period of time leaving thousands dead, thousands orphaned and widowed, loss of property, honor, arbitrary disappearances, extra-judicial killings and many more severe human rights violations in Indian occupied Jammu Kashmir by Indian army and para-military forces. Unmarked graves and gang rapes were the most notorious tools used by the Indian army to harass the common folks. Displacing Kashmiri Pundits from the valley was an intentional move by both Islamabad and Delhi to destroy the secular fabric of Kashmiri society. Internally displaced persons IDPs (technically the term refugees is not an appropriate word for displaced Kashmiris across LOC) have been a major victim of ongoing intractable conflict in Jammu Kashmir.
After the 9/11 terrorist attack on twin towers in Manhattan, New York the trends in global politics shifted and West considered Islamic extremism as a new threat to the global security instead of communism during the cold war era. Capitalist bloc joined hands together to defeat Islamic extremism beginning by invading Afghanistan in 2001. A fragile government at Islamabad led by a dictator offered its services to West to get some compensations, recognition and amnesty to be accepted as a legitimate government in the eyes of West. Delhi administration led by Prime Minister Vajpayee took the advantage of changing global trends and aligned with United States to label the armed struggle in Jammu Kashmir as an extension of global Jihad. Islamabad led by a dictator was in much weaker position to ignore the paradigms shift and left with no choice than to shake hands with India. Both Islamabad and Delhi negotiated a road map to curb the militancy in Jammu Kashmir and initiated certain Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Some of the Kashmiri leaders from all the three parts of Jammu Kashmir were taken aboard by both the countries and again the nationalists from either side of LOC provided their shoulders for CBMs without any proper homework.
Confidence Building Measures provided a break to India to take the necessary steps for strengthening its losing grip over Kashmir and a relaxation to Pakistan to come out of the pressure created by diplomatic muscles of Indian government. Cross-LOC trade benefited the traders of Islamabad and Delhi and Kashmiris were used only as trade agents for the fraction of profit earned by the giants. Bus-service that was meant to be used for the reunion of divided families fell hostage at the mercy of bureaucratic hindrances from either side. However, self-acclaimed Kashmiri intelligentsia took the advantage of so-called peace process at the cost of people’s aspirations and maximized their personal assets and capital. 26/11 attacks on India’s financial hubs reversed the peace process as India had already bought enough time to sideline Pakistan in the eyes of west and International community. Having been betrayed by Islamabad time and again Kashmiris in the valley were not ready to fall prey again and instead of militancy they relied on political struggle. 2009-2010 have witnessed huge peaceful political protests in Valley of Kashmir but unfortunately the proxy leadership of Kashmir was so naïve that it could not mobilize the masses for a Kashmir centric activities.
After a halt in the so called peace process and failure of Kashmiri leadership across LOC to defend the political aspirations, ordinary masses in the valley were left with no choice to trust them anymore. Meanwhile, the triumph of BJP in Indian national elections have provided Prime Minister Modi a political economy to sell the party’s slogan against article 370 in Jammu Kashmir. At this stage going with the boycott call from the pro-freedom and pro-Pakistan elements in valley of Kashmir would have provided enough room for the materialization of Prime Minister Modi’s Mission 44 plus slogan to change the special status of Jammu Kashmir. Hence the ordinary masses instead of wasting their energy in the futile exercise of shutdown and boycott lined up at the polling stations to vote for anti-BJP political parties. Indian government is interpreting it as its triumph over freedom slogans while there is a criminal silence from Pakistani side because their proxies in the valley could not convince the people to go for boycott.
Different opinions and opinion makers are out there on print, electronic and social media to prove it as a paradigm shift on behalf of Kashmiri people residing in valley of Kashmir. But the reality is “that there was no paradigm shift only a strategic step by the ordinary masses to block the imminent threat of BJP gaining 44 plus figure.” Kashmiri people residing in the valley have suffered more than any community in entire South Asia in last three decades. They have been victims of the rivalry between India and Pakistan. They have been suffering due to unwise adventurous approach of the people whom they trusted the most in last three decades. Apparently, they have changed their strategy not to take the borrowed gun yet again. But hopefully they will not fell prey to the borrowed politics of Delhi after appearing at the polling stations. Their one day presence should be just to block the fascist and fanatic designs of BJP and not to alter the corridor of Kashmir centric politics, which should enter into a nonviolent, self-relied, indigenous, secular and democratic phase. Kashmiri masses should not let the proxy leadership to sell their aspirations under the cover of any secret agenda. They should stay firm for having their own homeland.
Kashmiri people need to understand that if the borrowed guns during militancy could not guarantee their freedom hence the borrowed politics during political activity will not bring the different results. Delhi and Islamabad centric policies have caused an immense destruction to the fabric of Kashmiri society in last 67 years. By any means repeating the same experiments in 2014 would not yield any different results. Here comes the utmost responsibility on the shoulders of all those political activists, analysts, human rights advocates, journalists and intellectuals across the Line of Divide in all the parts of forcibly divided State of Jammu Kashmir to guide the masses towards a safe, dignified and honourable destination that a Kashmir centric approach must prevail in our exertion.
Pro-people and secular political leadership in Jammu Kashmir needs to understand that at the heart of any sustainable peace is the condition and process of reconciliation: the restoration of entirety. There are structural conditions that can promote reconciliation, but integral to the process is that elements of compassion, assistance, understanding and clemency; the capacity to let go of the hatred and hurt of the past and begin to envision common futures. If the results which are due on 23rd December come in favor of BJP and its allies to elevate them at “Mission 44 Plus” then further discussion would be needed. But in contrast if the state political parties mainly NC and PDP are successful in stopping the wave of BJP then responsibility lies on the shoulders of Mehbooba Mufti and Omer Abdullah to begin a process of reconciliation and understanding that among the worst political relations Kashmiri people had picked them as their representatives.
Kashmir based mainstream leadership needs to understand that curiosity and necessity drive human inquiry. We may seek to understand world around us for the sake of knowledge, or we seek to understand it, so that we may protect or better our lot in it. Whichever is the case, the more we learn about our social and physical environment, the better equipped we are to adapt to our conditions or to manipulate them. This is just as true of our knowledge of politics as it is of other fields. The key to understanding and altering our political environment is, most simply, knowing more about it. Both Mehbooba Mufti and Omer Abdullah after having been gone through various alliances with Indian based political parties and new trends in the political arena should be well equipped if the Kashmiri people still consider them as saviors instead of foes. Even if the election results prove to be other way around, the responsibility again lies on the shoulders of Kashmir based political parties to re-consider their line of actions and come out of the shelters provided by BJP and Congress. In both the cases a broad discussion and dialogues for reconciliation would be needed among the different sections of political spheres i.e. both the valley based separatists and mainstream leadership. It should also extend to other regions and across LOC as well. Political events of such fashions (Boycotts, elections) always provide opportunities to re-think and move forward with new strategies. There is nothing stagnant in the everyday evolving world and political strategies are also the part of this evolution.
State subjects (Kashmiri citizens living in different parts of divided Himalayas across LOC) have the every right to know what militancy has yielded and what the political process has provided them so far. But the simple idea of knowing raises two far less simple questions. How do we know? How should we use what we know? The first is a question of method, the second one is of ethics and preference. In the first instance we are interested in obtaining and structuring knowledge or understanding: in the second we are concerned with the moral obligations that accompany it. Both questions require the exercise of judgment and both draw upon our experience, but each demands its own distinct kind of intellectual effort. So having been gone through various phases i.e. division of Jammu Kashmir, United Nations Resolutions, armed struggle, boycotts, political activism and participation, it is time to revisit our wisdom that where is the missing link that hampers our efforts to think collectively and in the best interests of the masses.
After the decades of repeated episodes by both India and Pakistan it should be plausible that by holding state assembly or legislative assembly elections across LOC India and Pakistan cannot claim that Kashmiris have surrendered their right-to-self-determination. Off course both the countries owe more than just granting the undeniable right to the people of Kashmir and International Community as well is responsible for a just and free future of Kashmiri people. Now it depends upon the leadership of divided State how they seize the opportunity and utilize it in the best interests of suffering people?
(Writer is a US based political analyst, human rights activist and a freelance journalist. His area of expertise is International Peace and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at email@example.com)
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