Competing poll narratives

14 May, 2014    ·   4442

Shujaat Bukhari gives a Kashmiri perspective in the recently-concluded Indian general elections 

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir
The decades old distances that exist between New Delhi and Srinagar have again been reflected in the just concluded elections for the Lok Sabha. While the battle in rest of India was about managing more seats to come to power apart from the insignificant campaign (in terms of issues), in Kashmir people were wrestling on the polling days on the issue of boycott and vote. This again showed how Jammu and Kashmir state (except for Jammu and Ladakh regions) was differently placed when it comes to the critical issue of democracy and strengthening the democratic institutions.

The election to three Lok Sabha constituencies in Kashmir has thrown up many issues worth a debate. The three phases have also come up with some lessons in case the concerned parties have a desire to learn something. In the past over 15 years, the elections have entered into the discourse on Kashmir in a different way. The process has been projected as something which has nothing to do with the larger question of resolving the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. This has been the policy adopted by the pro-India political parties whose main objective has been to be in power.

However, negating their own argument the same parties have also chipped into the political discourse and carved out a space for being the stakeholders in the final resolution. For example, both National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have come up with their solutions to address the Kashmir issue.  Though they know that the political empowerment is something which New Delhi will not allow a regional party to enjoy, the noise continues unabated. Not only are the NC and PDP in a race to prove that they are the only ones to care for Kashmiris, new faces like Engineer Rashid also have joined the bandwagon. Now he does not surprise anyone when he talks about “Azadi” in the Assembly or asks India to leave Kashmir, though coming subtly through Afzal Guru’s hanging. Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference is also in the race to tell Kashmiris that all others have failed and fleeced them and “now we are the saviours”.

However, the bottom line for all the discourses these pro-India parties are shaping is to attract the attention of people. And this is being done through a collage of “restoring dignity and honour” and “a quality life” by way of good governance.
Similarly the separatists have not brought any change in their strategy. They continue to call for the boycott but fail to give any pragmatic roadmap for taking the process of resolution forward. Notwithstanding the fact majority of people in Kashmir boycotted the elections, but that was not purely because of their boycott call. They did thank people in wholesale for “paying heed” to their call, but that was not the case when it comes to real situation on the ground. They failed to explain as to who should own those who chose to vote in these elections.

For those who are at the helm in Delhi, it hardly matters how many people would come to vote. For them conducting the process is more important. In past six decades they have not learnt any lesson so they would refuse to do so in this round as well. When the UPA government sent Afzal Guru to the gallows, it was a clear message to people in Kashmir that they don’t care about what they thought about the “illegitimate” rule of Delhi. They are confident about the power to overcome any challenge in Kashmir. And at the global level too there are more takers for India’s version than that of Kashmir or Pakistan. However, what they cannot ignore for long time is the fact that Kashmir’s new generation has empathically declared that it was at far distance from them both politically and emotionally.

Those who have been in power in Kashmir for last over 17 years have also lost the battle. Leaving the results aside, the way people, especially youth, behaved in these elections, it puts the entire pro-India political set up in a bad picture. Even if they jumped into the fray in 1996 and then in successive elections, all have failed to cover any ground for politics aimed at strengthening the Indian discourse in Kashmir. If in 2009, the parties were free to campaign and garner support, this time they faced the wrath of people and had to retreat at many places. Leaders of both NC and PDP came under attacks from youth and it was the demonstration of growing influence of those who don’t support the electoral process. The pro-election parties must see the writing on the wall that they have failed to fulfill the promise of governance and people are wiser enough to understand that to play any significant role in resolution of Kashmir issue was not their cup of tea.

Fear may be an important factor in keeping many voters away but the majority of people did not allow to legitimize this process out of their own will. The incident of beating those in Sopore and Baramulla, who voted in frontier district of Kupwara, is another example of how people of an ideology perceived it. However, it is important that we as a society become tolerant and respect each other’s viewpoint and choice. Coercion in both the cases is undemocratic.

On the other hand, the separatists also need to introspect. Like in 2010, this time also the people took the control of enforcing the boycott. Stone pelting on polling days, locking of polling booths and attacking those who wanted to vote or encouraged others to vote was the telltale story on polling days. Except for the routine statements they did not lead the people. They did thank them for the boycott but so did the mainstream parties for voting (to those who did). They also claim to represent the people of Jammu and Kashmir but then in Jammu and Ladakh there was record turnout. Why the people at these places did not listen to them?

There are lessons for all but will they ever think of taking them seriously. People also need to think on shedding this stigma of “40 lakh” being with all the parties. If one goes by the election meetings held in past two months, it is difficult to understand as to why there was low turnout. However, the urban centers such as Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore, Tral, Anantnag and Pulwama have shown that they are steadfast in their ideology of not taking part in the elections. This election was no different in the context of Kashmir politics – competing narratives and crossing ideologies.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir