Indian Parliamentary Elections and Kashmir

Indians are in the process of elections. We congratulate them for the tradition they have been following since their emergence as a new nation in 1947. We wish them well and hope the country will one day transform itself and humanize the millions upon millions of its minorities, including Dalits( ‘the Untouchables’), Muslims, Sikhs who continue to face discrimination; and those homeless and faceless millions living in abject poverty . Despite many of its shortcomings democracy and electoral system have served India well.

Kashmir, however, is a different story altogether where six decades of Indian democracy and elections have had an abysmal record. Kashmir, as the European Union delegation several years ago aptly described the situation, is the largest prison in the world. Elections in this, “the largest prison” are an exercise in futility, a very crude joke and an insult to the sensibility of the citizens of Kashmir and the world.   Always staged, always rigged and always stolen, these elections whether they be for the Indian Parliament or  the Jammu and  Kashmir Legislative Assembly, have done nothing to advance the cause of democracy. Instead, this repetitive farcical exercise has deepened the crisis and perpetuated the misery of Kashmiris. There never was an iota of sincerity or an ounce of honesty in the entire process. It is used as a ploy to hoodwink the masses. Indians have never intended to foster true freedom and democracy in the state. They, like any colonialist power, have no interest in the welfare of the people of the occupied nation. Their actions have repeatedly betrayed their intensions by rigging each and every election.

Right from the first post-invasion election for the J & K Assembly under Sheikh Abdullah every election was staged, rigged, stolen and awarded to the pre-selected candidates whose only qualification was their allegiance to India. To be sure that there was no ambiguity about Indian policy, and to lay a firm foundation of an Indian colony- in-the making,  all of the 75candidates for the Legislative Assembly were appointed by the authorities, not elected by the people. Ever since, theindependence-minded candidates are routinely deselected on the basis of some oft the most absurd and most ludicrous excuses at the time of filing of nomination papers for the elections. Candidates are detained, beaten and harassed or simply denied access on the ballot paper. Ballot boxes are routinely stuffed and stolen by the authorities. Polling authorities declare winners without regard to the number of votes polled by candidates. To break the monotony of this selection process and to sprinkle variety in to the electoral drama many votes are bought not earned. That has been a consistent electoral pattern throughout the six decades of Indian rule, and it is going on right now in this current cycle of Indian Lok Sabha elections in Kashmir.

 To defeat this ongoing farce of the elections, particularly since the latest uprising of 1990 the legitimate Kashmiri political leaders have called for boycott of the opaque elections. Despite strong arming by Indian authorities these boycotts have been spectacularly successful in large population centers, where a sense of mutual security in numbers results in defiance and a participation of less than 2 %. By far, the only turn out above single digits takes place is in small and far off villages where the army is successful in intimidating the people. In a typical and most familiar scenario, security forces herd people out of their homes at gunpoint to the poling stations to vote. Somehow, and we know why, the world community countenances such pretentious practices of deceitful democracy. It appears to fool either the practitioners of this toxic trade themselves or the powers-that-be in- charge of the world affairs. It does not fool the victims of this travesty in the least.  They see it, they know it, they feel it and they suffer it. And at the end of the day they matter the most. A negligible participation of less than 2 % is not uncommon in the elections. Somehow, New Delhi happens to know the world community’s threshold of legitimacy for an election in Kashmir and a few other places based on numbers, not on the fairness of the process. It uses every possible means at its disposal to achieve that critical threshold. This is in sharp contrast to the international standards used in all other civilized nations. But, since the armed uprising of1990 and the open repudiation of Indian administration, it has consistently failed to achieve even that meager number- based target. Sadly though, the impotent world community could care less about this flagrant violation of international standards. Instead, it lowers the bar to accommodate New Delhi’s failure to meet those minimum standards. Foreign and independent election observers and reporters are never allowed to witness the elections. Local media being pliant, Indian media in cahoots and the world community deafeningly silent, India always has a field day in trampling the rights of the electorate and handpicking it favorite candidates.

After all, why would India care about any fairness in the process? It wants Kashmir administered to serve Indian interests, not for of millions of Kashmiris. Kashmiris understand full well the importance of elections. Indians do not need to lecture them on this topic. They know when an election is legitimate and fair and when it is illegitimate and unfair. They would rush to the polls in a heart beat if an election was perceived good of the nation. They would not need to be forced at gun point to cast their votes. It is the illegitimate and insidious nature of these elections that is galling to their sense of pride and decency. The handling of the process is brutal and authoritarian, lest the results of fair elections embolden the Kashmiris to challenge India’s locus standi in Kashmir. Fair elections should promote peace, harmony and unity in a nation. Farcical and fraudulent elections, particularly those imposed by invaders only serve to divide and fragment the society internally. It serves to pit the minority of quislings against the large majority of patriotic citizens. That is precisely what has happened in Kashmir.

 The sham elections have been used by India as one of the many tools to legitimize and perpetuate the occupation of the State against international law. It imposes a handful of quislings to its bidding in the State. The quislings have vested interest based on narrow selfish considerations of power and money. When the quislings’ mutual squabble threatens to unravel the government it crashes like a house of cards. Indians resort to their predictable colonialist tool from their dirty little tool box, the Governor’s Rule. Governor’s Raj unmasks the ugly face of the occupation, ripping apart its cloak of participatory democracy. It reveals itself for what it really is, a neo-colonialist enterprise of an old British colony.  Governor’s raj  is an essential element of the Indian rule which is used to clean house and tighten the nuts and bolts which loosen during the brief periods of civilian rule under the weight of the resistance to occupation. Governor’s rule cuts through the chase, brushes aside all pretensions of democracy and uses emergency powers of an Indian appointee.

The political hot potato that the Indian-sponsored elections have become, is evident from the crisis the APHC (M) plunged into almost overnight, by one of its constituent members, Mr.Abbas Ansari’s calling the election boycott a “non-issue”. Public resentment and reaction was sharp and swift, unnerving the pliant faction of the APHC. It quickly fell in line with the will of the masses. It is not the militants, but the masses that chastised the leadership for betraying the national trust.  Such is the emotional and the political landscape of Kashmir. The group’s chairman had to return immediately from India to stave off a disastrous fate for the amalgam.  APHC( M )had to quickly distance itself from Mr. Ansari and restate its repudiation of the elections. Such is the cynicism and disdain with which the Kashmiris look at the elections which are shoved down the throats of Kashmiris. To reiterate once again, that is not so because the Kashmiris have some sort of inherent disregard for democratic elections, far from that, they have been giving immense sacrifices for the last 61 years to acquire the right to vote and to savor the taste of democracy. However, they viscerally hate Indian attitude and audacity to say what is right for the Kashmiris, the rightful owners of Kashmir. Sure the want elections, sure they want a popular pluralistic democracy, but they want that decision to be made by the Kashmiris themselves in total freedom. They want the walls of the “largest prison” in the world torn down before they can participate in the elections. They want the Indian soldiers off their streets and out of their neighborhoods before they can vote without fear and intimidation.  After all why are the Indians at the verge of forcing millions of Kashmiris at gunpoint to get out and vote, while they have already placed political and civic leaders in detention in side their homes and inside prisons? Is that not a clear contradiction in policies of the rulers? In Kashmir the only people who are really free are the Indian soldiers. They are the only ones roaming the streets of Kashmir freely. Kashmiris are prisoners in their homeland. It is a new era apartheid where the Indian colonialists are the overlords and Kashmiris the subjects with an allocated status at the discretion of the Indian bureaucracy. There is no room for unfettered voting as long as Security Forces remain on the streets.

What they also want to achieve is the right of self-determination first; and the right to elect their representatives to govern them next. They do not want to put the cart before the horse, but the horse before the cart. Then alone will the Kashmiri society support elections and guarantee peace.

 The international community, particularly the United States of America can and must act, and persuade India to enter in to a tripartite and mediated dialogue with Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership to set a timetable to hold UNSC sanctioned plebiscite in the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir. It is not befitting or acceptable to Kashmiris nor is it in the best interest of the regional peace to keep giving a pass to India on Kashmir issue. We urge that the Ambassador Richard Holbrook, not show special deference to India in addressing the Kashmir issue in tandem with the over all geopolitical crisis in the region.