Kashmir’s Tryst with Ballot

Some days, back on social media network Facebook, someone posted a black and white photograph of a handsome turbaned man draped in an up-button black coat. The picture looked straight into the eyes of the surfers telling terrifying tales of suppression of the yesteryears. It had hundreds of likes and dozens of shares. It generated scores of euphoric and eulogistic comments from a broad spectrum of our society as wide-ranging as from historian Dr. Abdul Ahad to firebrand leader of the 1965 student movement Anwar Ashai. The photograph was of none but Khawaja Saad-ud-Din Shawl one of the pioneers of the Kashmir Struggle. His comrades and he about one hundred years back had dreamt of democracy and end of bigoted and brutal autocratic rule. These brave hearts bidding farewell to their comforts had risen in revolt against the powers that be for seeing their dream realized.

Evading the eyes of snoops and collaborators of the jaundiced rulers in October 1924, they had presented a charter of demands to the Viceroy of India, Lord Reading demanding “an elected Legislative assembly which should also work as the Constituent Assembly.” For demanding the right to ballot and institutionalization of democracy they were persecuted, incarcerated and exiled into British India. Since then the world has undergone a sea change, the feudal autocracy has melted in thin air, the colonial powers have crumbled, waves of decolonization have swept across the globe, and some slave country from Egypt to East Timor got freedom, and tens of new nation-states appeared on the map. Nevertheless, our rendezvous with ballot has been so far a big mirage. And the peoples’ involvement at the hustings has been more of a joke than reality.

At the cost of repetition, to make my point let me reiterate what I had written in this column some years back. ‘In January 1984, Morarji Desai, former Prime Minister of India took pride in having given people of Jammu and Kashmir in 1977 first ever fair elections. In an interview in Philomena Apartments on the Marine Drive, Bombay he had told me that ‘people of Jammu and Kashmir should be thankful to him for having provided them an opportunity to taste the first bite of democracy forbidden to them by holding fair elections in the State. And despite his colleagues pleading for rigging of the State Assembly elections he had stuck to his guns.’ Thus, he confirmed what people of the state have been crying from the rooftops; that all the elections held in the State before were manipulated and managed to hoodwink the international opinion.

One of the former Governors of Jammu and Kashmir from 1981 and 1984, B.K. Nehru in his memoirs ‘Nice Guys Finish Second, substantiates what Morarji Desai had told some years before the publishing of memoirs. Nehru records, “From 1953 to 1975, Chief Ministers of that State had been nominees of Delhi. Their appointment to that post was legitimized by the holding farcical and totally rigged elections in which the Congress party led by Delhi’s nominee was elected by huge majorities.”

These Chief Minister installed through farcical elections were no more than errand boys for New Delhi. A bureaucrat could beckon them in the middle of the night, to do a job New Delhi wanted them. In this regard, Syed Mir Qasim, one of the Chief Ministers, who was also one of the beneficiaries of the farcical elections in his memoirs ‘My Life and Times’ published by Allied Publisher in 1992, relates a classic example. ‘In the eyes of Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad after performing his “role” had become a vestige and liability as his predecessor Prime Minister; Sheikh Abdullah had become for her father, Jawaharlal Nehru. She wanted Bakshi arrested. Shankar Prasad, Secretary Kashmir Affairs was sent for doing this job. The incumbent Chief Minister, Sadiq was against the arrest of his predecessor. In the middle of the night, Chief Minister was summoned to Karan Mahal along with Mir Qasim. ‘The two reach Karan Mahal at 1.oo AM in the night to find Shankar Prasad, Chief Secretary, Sushtil Banerjee, D.I.G and Joint Director IB waiting for them.” ‘The two expressed their reservations against the arrest of Bakshi. But their views were rejected. And Sadiq was directed to arrest Bakshi as it was in the “national arrest.” (P104). Bakshi was put in the dungeon- albeit for a brief period but politically decimated forever not to rise again.

In stating, that all election held in the State up to 1977 were fraud both Morarji Desai and B.K. Nehru by all stretch of imagination delegitimized all the elections held in the state including one for the State Constituent Assembly. Thus, thereby they also delegitimized all the actions taken by the State Constituent Assembly. It is a harsh reality there was practically no election. All the members except two were declared elected without contest. During the period, more than ten thousand people were jailed. Besides the workers of the Muslim Conference, those arrested included leaders and members of the Kissan Mazdoor Sabha and other groups. The UN Security Council in its two resolutions of 1951 and 1957 had declared all the actions of this Constituent Assembly regarding the disposition of the state as ultra vires.

In denouncing the elections held in the state as sham Morarji and Nehru have also deconstructed the much orchestrated dominant discourse at the international level that the people of Jammu through these elections had expressed their will – ironically these elections were projected as an alternative to Plebiscite. These assertions by the Government of India election boycotts in the state- and it emerged as a form of resistance politics in the state. And hardly an election was not boycotted in the country.
The elections held in the state in 1977 and after were not different than the earlier elections that were “disgracefully manipulated.” ‘That the 1977 election was in line with the previous elections were also managed and fraudulent ’, Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz a prominent Kashmiri Pandit leader and writer in his book ‘Democracy Through Intimidation and Terror’ has built a solid case in support of his view.
That the 1987 election was brutishly rigged is a stark fact, and these need no reference to corroborate. These elections had generated considerable debates in India, and many an analysts and politicians had seen them as a contributor to the armed resistance in the state. The 1996 elections, held after nine years were a coercive military exercise emanates not only from various reports published during the election and numerous white papers published in the state and outside but it becomes obvious even from the pro-establishment books written by former bureaucrats. Sumntra Bose, Professor of Comparative Politics in the London School of Economics as well described it in his book The Challenges of Kashmir: “a fraudulent and coercive exercise cannot, in any event, be dignified as a reintroduction of the democratic process.’
The least that one can say about these elections; there can’t be a better joke with a ballot that peoples with two to four percent votes are claiming to represent people.