Polls, Politics and Experimentation

I am not a psephologist. Notwithstanding, in the democratic process, the role of psephology is recognized as an important one, the study of elections in Jammu and Kashmir has never been my cup of tea. I never endeavoured to analyse voting patterns, regional and sub-regional factors, the role of caste, sects and religious factors, in the elections held in the state since in 1957. The 1957 elections were held under the Jammu and Kashmir Representation of the People Act 1957 after the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir was adopted on 17 November 1956. Nonetheless, in this column, in the past on many occasions, I have debated and discussed the political and international dynamics of the elections held for the State Constituent Assembly in 1951.

This election was conducted by the State’s election and franchise commissioner after a resolution was passed by the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference and proclamation to that effect was made by prince-regent Dr Karan Singh.

It had caused a stir in international forums. In this column, it would be pertinent to repeat what has already been written about the ramifications of this election but for constraints of space, let me skip it. However, the polls for the State Constituent Assembly have been for quite a long time of interest to scholars and political scientists. Professor Sumantra Bose of London School of Economics and Politics, author of many books known in the State for his books, ‘The Challenges in Kashmir: Democracy, Self-Determination and a Just Peace’ and ‘Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace’ has described these elections as move for ‘governing Jammu and Kashmir as a “party state”- a type of state in which one party has the right to form the government all others are outlawed or are allowed limited participation.

The election campaign for 17th Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha) these days is in full gear. The psephologists’ are busy as bees in analysing the trends, the swing of votes and the data all over India. For first three elections for the Lok Sabha 1952- 1957, 1957-1962, and 1962- 1967, that was crucial in as many debates over “the constitutional relations of the state with Union of India” are concerned, the state was not represented in the Parliament. And whatever laws regarding the state have been passed or amended during these three terms of Parliament have been done at the back of people of the state. In 1967 after a number of Central Laws were extended to Jammu and Kashmir during the regime of Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, for the first time, Parliament election was held in the state. Since then except in 1991 when no elections were held in the state, elections for the Lok Sabha have been conducted along with in other states. Except, the polls for the fifth Lok Sabha, (1971-1977) that had generated some heat in the political atmosphere in the state the Parliament elections in the state have been mainly a lacklustre affair. In 1971, the Plebiscite Front was banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, and it had supported and campaigned for an independent candidate from Srinagar, and in this election, the Jammat-e-Islamia Jammu and Kashmir had fielded its candidates in three constituencies. The independent candidate had won with a significant margin, and the Jammat had lost, but it had benefited in as much reaching out to the general masses with their socio-religious programmes.
The results of the Parliament elections followed by segment-wise analysis to an extent presage the likely outcome of the Assembly elections. New Delhi, despite political parties demanding holding of Parliament and Assembly elections together, has chosen to defer the Assembly elections. There may be some motives behind it, or it may just have something to do with addressing the security-related issues- or preparing for as good an exercise as that for 1996 or 2002 Assembly elections- both these elections had an international dimension in as much the primary Kashmir narrative is concerned. In 2019 elections some new, unprecedented trends are catching up; a large number of retired cops, bureaucrats, superannuated government employees’ activists, and judicial officers are joining the ‘electoral-political’ parties- in some parties these folks have almost outnumbered traditional political workers that generally graduate from grassroots levels to the positions of getting mandates for the elections. Another significant development related to electoral politics in the state that has come to the fore during the past couple of weeks has been birth of new political parties. Some political parties well entrenched in the electoral politics have been expressing their concerns about the proliferation of the political parties. In the public mind, there is some scepticism about these new developments in the electoral-politics more particularly about the entry of new faces in this genus of state politics. From 1947 the electoral politics and the resistance politics have been running parallel to each, but the lines dividing the two always were quite distinct. For the first time, the lines have become so much blurred that it has become too difficult to know which side of fence some old and new faces in the electoral-politics belong to.
It was a story in Outlook magazine about a new young entrant into the electoral politics belong to of the Communist-affiliated All India Students’ Association by one of our senior journalist Naseer A Ganai that reminded me about an interview I had some decades back with Khawaja Ahmad Abbas. In his interview, Khawaja Ahmad Abbas had told me that Jawaharlal Nehru, as first Prime Minister of India in early 1948 had invited a good number of communist writers euphemistically called progressive writers and told them that Kashmir was a ‘laboratory for experimenting our socialist ideas’ and sent some of them including Abbas to Srinagar to fight an ideological battle against Jinnah’s idea of two nation theory on the turf Kashmir. Famed short story writer Rajinder Singh Bedi was appointed as Director Radio Kashmir Jammu to propagate Nehru’s ideas about Kashmir. Nehru experimentation with Kashmir had, in fact, started ten years before the independence of India. In 1937, he had sent K.M. Ashraf a Marxist historian, from London School of Oriental Studies and leading member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and a member of the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) for establishing a mass contact in Kashmir. He had stayed in Kashmir for quite a good time and succeeded in creating a cadre to his ideology Sheikh Abdullah’s party. This experimentation paid big dividends to Nehru in 1947, with entire National Conference standing by his side. In the given scenario, it will be difficult to say where this new experimentation leads to if it adds confusion to already existing messes in state politics.