Dynamics of Election Boycotts We need to talk about that seriously

Our political struggle dates back to 29 April 1865. On this day people rebelled against the Dogra rulers. Twenty seven men were killed and many wounded. 

True, this day is important benchmark in our history. Nevertheless, I see the 17 point memorandum presented by Muslims of Kashmir to Lord Reading in October 1924 as the first major intellectual input to the Kashmir political struggle. The memorandum demanded setting up of an elected Legislative Assembly which should work for drafting a Constitution of the state and asked for Muslim representation in the State Council according to ratio in population. In October 1932, the memorandum presented in the first convention of the newly founded Muslim Conference broadly was reiteration of the memorandum presented to the Lord Reading. After Dogra rulers set up set up Legislative Assembly as recommended by the Glancy Commission the Muslim Conference partook in the process towards democracy   

The briefly encapsulated history above tells, the pivot of our political struggle has been securing equal rights for all including the Muslims that had been denied all rights and establishing and strengthen the democratic institutions. But the question arises why people started losing trust in democratic institution after end of the Dogra rule and how boycotting elections for the Legislative Assembly and the Parliament entered into the political narrative of Jammu and Kashmir.

 The National Conference introduced the politics of boycotting during the Dogra rule is a historical reality. But for constraints of space, it may not be possible in this column to discuss implications of this boycott on the political situation that emerged after 1947. Needless to say that the debate over date and fact of the “Instrument of Accession” and India airlifting troops to Srinagar holds its importance in Kashmir narrative but for understanding the dynamics of the contemporary elections boycott politics, one needs to focus on the developments after India took Kashmir dispute to the United Nations on January 1, 1948 on the strength of this document.

 The UN Security Council after marathon deliberations passed one after another resolution calling for holding of plebiscite under its supervision. India in its complaint had also mentioned that it was committed to allowing people of the state to decide their future through democratic method but after UNSC passed resolution of 1948 and 1949 and did not find India’s complaint against Pakistan tenable.  Nehru and Abdullah governments out of desperation took to a parallel recourse of seeing the ‘accession’ endorsed ostensibly through ‘democratic institutions and informing the world accordingly. In 1950, elections were held for the State Constituent Assembly. Almost all members to this body were elected unopposed. Knowing the intentions behind the framing of the Assembly, the UNSC on 30 March 1951 adopted a resolution placing a rider on it for ‘final disposition’ of the state as it would be in violation of right to self-determination.  

A year later the state politics underwent a cataclysmic change. The architects of the “Constituent Assembly” were jailed. And the new government went ahead with framing of the State Constitution and adopted it on 7 November 1956. And in contravention to the UN resolution of 1951 in the very preamble of the constitution declared ‘final disposition’ of the state by calling it as an “integral part” of India. Members of C Assembly supporting Abdullah boycotted it. On January 1957 adopted another resolution ‘nullifying’ the action of the state.  

Seen in this perspective the State Assembly and its action thereof regarding accession or integrating the state with Union of India have not been recognized by the comity of nation. It in fact, has been this resolution that made the political parties pleading for right to self-determination to believe participation in elections for the Assembly and under the Constitution on which UN Security Council has put question marks would be against the very cause that these parties represent. And it would be strengthening New Delhi’s denying accession. The Plebiscite Front was the first major political party to boycott three elections viz 1957, 1962 and 1967 in a row. 

In 1967, some Front leaders at the behest of some interlocutors from New Delhi asked leadership for abandoning ‘election boycott’ politics and adopting pragmatic and creative approach for ending uncertainty in the state. Then it was seen a cleverly laid out trap for “seducing” the Front into the electoral politics. The rebels were thrown out of the party but the bug of “pragmatism and creative solution” entered into the PF narrative to surface at a later date. 

To end stalemate and come up with “creative and all inclusive solution” the Front held an all parties state peoples convention. The proceedings of this convention make an ugly reading, telling tales of conflicting ideologies, bloated egos,   and vested interests. The convention failed to come up with a “creative solution” for the Kashmir dispute. Instead it exposed the fragility of a political movement otherwise monumental. The speech of Jayaprakash  Narayan worked like ‘Trojan horse virus’, it spread fast in the Front and steered it  into electoral politics. 

In 1969, the Front fought municipal and local body elections. In 1971, it exhibited its strength in the victory of independent candidate it had supported.  To prove that the Plebiscite Front and its ideology had peoples mandate it wanted to contest the 1972, Assembly elections. It was banned and told in clear terms it cannot partake in elections unless; it abandons harping on UN resolution and demanding Plebiscite and publicly pronounces the belief in Article 3 of the State Constitution.  

Caught up in newly discovery phraseology of ‘pragmatism and creative way of looking at elections’ it got sucked into more hideous phrases “dispute is over quantum of accession and not quality of accession”.  The phrase in fact became an epitaph for the twenty two years movement for plebiscite. The boycott politics enjoyed a siesta from 1977 to 1991. In mid nineties the APHC (joint) inherited the election boycott politics of the Plebiscite Front. Now at the threshold of 2014 Assembly elections with phrases like “creativity approach” towards the elections again gaining currency, the elections boycott politics of pro-freedom parties with all international dimensions and local dynamics needs to be talked about.