Kashmir civic polls: an exercise in futility

Kashmir civic polls: an exercise in futility

…electoral poll of any hue is not the solution

Dr. Javid Iqbal

Electoral poll of various hues, whether at the civic level, the state level or to elect representatives for Indian legislative chambers has hardly helped to provide a solution to what ails the state of Jammu and Kashmir? The civic poll being undertaken in the coming days is no exception. In fact, it is much more futile an exercise than the ones preceding it over decades.The electoral process, in fact series of such processes far from providing the binding factor have led to deeper alienation in J&K state. Yet, the same prescription is advised to provide the cure, in spite of being a proven exercise in futility. The repetition of the same medicine in the same dose would add to the sickness in the body politic of the feverish state, mired in raging conflict. The ailment has turned chronic, wherein a much wider look is needed to provide the cure. The needed look, the deeper probe is missing.

As the proverb goes if you are not a part of solution, you are a part of the problem. Since numerous electoral processes have never ever been the part of a lasting solution, they turn out to be the part of the problem. However, as it stands, the electoral processes are initiated to tide over a crisis. It could at best be a short term measure. Sooner than later, the disorder recurs with greater intensity. The cycle repeats, as has been seen, ever since the 1951 poll for constituent assembly. The poll was held to circumvent the process of finding a lasting solution to ‘K’ dispute at the international level. United Nations in a resolution ruled out the alternative of a local poll settling the dispute. The resolution passed related that it would have no effect on the decisions of international body. At the conclusion of the deliberations of constituent assembly, a similar resolution was passed in 1957. So, right from the initiation of the poll process in J&K State, it has remained under a shadow. Other, related factor added to the suspicious process.

The electoral process lacked transparency. Much advertised, often lauded, Indian democratic process was hardly allowed a full play, as it crossed Lakhanpur-entry point of J&K State. Instead, measured doses of democracy tailored to prevailing times were administered to the state. 1951 poll was a nomination process, constituent assembly members were nominated to fill the chamber. There was hardly a contest. The health of the subsequent polls remained suspect, as uncontested returns plus rigging was the norm. The legislative chambers were tailored to fill the needs of Indian nation state. Constitutional applications, one after another were rushed in for a closer integration of J&K state with Union of India through tailored legislative chambers. This was meant to undermine the accession terms, wherein only external affairs, defence and communications remained under the purview of Indian parliament. It could be inferred thus that the electoral process has added to the complexities of ‘K’ dispute, rather than providing a solution. The alienation and almost total lack of enthusiasm vis-à-vis the poll process remains a registered fact.

Civic poll in any democratic dispensation provides a strong factor for gross roots participatory democracy. However, given the fact that the basic factor in body politic of J&K State is the clamour for resolution of ‘K’ dispute nullifies any other consideration. To devise other means for circumventing, what is central to ‘K’ dispute is hardly going to pay dividends. Whatever facet the state gives to shaping the poll event makes it murkier. Working up figures to make the poll process sink is hardly going to provide the desired results. A look at the figures shows obvious gaps, making it a tailored face saving device. Look at it, not a single candidate has filed nomination papers for 177 municipal wards out of a total 624 in the Kashmir Valley, while 215 wards will return their representative unopposed (GK news-report: 03.10.2018). 177 added to 215 makes the figure of 392 out of 624, where there would be no poll. The figure leaves barely 232 seats for a contest. What sort of a participatory democracy you are looking at the grass root level, where a contest might be held on a mere 232 seats out of a total of 624? It works to a figure of more or less 37 percent where a contest might be on, leaving the staggering 63 percent uncontested. Moreover, it might be interesting to see the poll percentage in the contested seats, before reaching definite conclusions?

The aura of participatory democracy looks shadier, when large chunks of the populace opt to stay out of the poll process. Apart from resistance formations who have never been a part of electoral process, regional parties in the mainstream realm—NC and PDP opted to stay out. Given the onslaught of Sangh Parivar on whatever remains of special status of J&K state, there is growing resentment across the political spectrum of various hues. The trust deficit already gnawing is widening by the day. And, in this melee, holding polls is meant to work out a narrative to justify status-quo. The sham is however too apparent to make an impact or change the Kashmir scene. The Sangh Parivar and its political outfit—BJP amply demonstrate their naivety vis-à-vis the intricacies of ‘K’ dispute. Moreover, there is a seeming tendency to use the ‘K’ scene to influence turnout on Indian political panorama. The workout might pay in the short-term; however its long-term repercussions could be daunting. Political jingoism seems to have taken better of cool reasoning, with obvious consequences.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]