Lok Sabha polls held for Anantnag seat (first leg of third phase) ended with 13 percent polling. Stone pelting was also reported at few polling stations in the district. The polling staff also suffered some problems while reaching and departing the polling stations. Whether people still have faith on election or political process is an issue that New Delhi should be worried about.
The low poll percentage shows that nothing has changed in Kashmir in the last so many decades and further proved how mainstream politics has failed in valley. It is a clarion call to Delhi and a lesson for Kashmiri mainstream politicians.
Violence has long been exacerbated by an unwillingness to consider political compromise. Right from 1947 till now, the process to resolve the political issue has lingered. The leaders at Delhi showed their lethargic approach to provide lasting solution to the problem.
Going by history, on 31 December 1947, the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru took the “Kashmir problem”’ to the United Nations (UN). For Kashmir and Kashmiris, this event came to define their political situation and became a ready reference point for all future debates and contestations on the subject. The UN recommended a plebiscite whereby the people of Kashmir would have the right to determine their own future.
By 1949, a ceasefire line divided the region of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two. Seventy years have passed since the UN intervention in 1948 with no signs of any solution. The UN resolutions were disregarded and J&K acceded to the federal polity, with the government promising it special status. Sheikh Abdullah became the first prime minister of J&K, which is an irrefutable fact. However, he was arrested within three years of appointment, for questioning the erosion of Kashmir’s autonomy and breach of promises against the backdrop of the UN resolutions. In response Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was installed, forever replacing the nomenclature of “Prime Minister of J&K” to “Chief Minister of J&K”.
Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest had become a rallying point for the people and in 1955 they came together under the newly created Plebiscite Front. These efforts at organising protests attracted youth participation on a large scale and challenged the presumption about Kashmir’s inevitability of belonging to India. What followed was 22 years of protests and mobilisations from 1953 to 1975. The streets of Kashmir were abuzz with the slogans. After his release in 1965, Sheikh Abdullah asked India to fulfil her promise to allow the people of the state to exercise their right to self-determination. In consequence the Shiekh was again put in the jail.
By 1975, having served an 11-year jail term, Abdullah had been tamed. He gave up on the demand for self-determination which paved the way for his return to power. His party, the National Conference (NC) swept the 1977 assembly elections. Abdullah returned to head the state but this time as the chief minister of J&K. Post-1975, a series of incidents: youth protests against Sheikh Abdullah in Srinagar, attempts to desecrate , Abdullah’s grave on the banks of Dal lake, the digging up of the cricket pitch of India–West Indies match venue at Srinagar to were all desperate yet informed attempts by people to retrieve and engage with the memories of their past. Such small yet consistent protests culminated into the early 1990s uprising in Kashmir.
The trigger of the armed uprising of 1990 was the rigging of elections in 1987 in which the newly formed and first-time contender Muslim United Front (MUF) was kept out of power, despite its overwhelming success.
Governments that were formed in subsequent years, through rituals continued to be based on a ‘contractual’ relationship. At the same time, relentless protests and mobilisations by Kashmiris challenged the legitimacy of such a relation.
After seven years of Governor’s rule (1990–1996), the initiation of election process was indeed a very difficult task for the state. Finally in 1996, electoral politics once again made a comeback in Kashmir. But again no step was initiated by Centre to redress the pending issue, hence losing once again the opportunity to resolve the issue.
Between 1996 and 2016, four assembly elections were held in J&K. The mainstream political discourse was again dominated by the NC and a new political entrant—the People’s Democratic Party, who were favourites of New Delhi. These parties sought economic packages from New Delhi, outsourcing Kashmiri aspirations for everyday grievances, that is, attracting funds from the central government, without engaging with the aspirations of the people. When each of these parties was out of power, they would verbalise the human rights discourse, demanding the abolition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and demilitarization of the region.
In the corridors of power, the seasons of elections continued to replace parties, the PDP and NC one after the other, without any change in the ground realities. The prolonged euphemistic discourse of the PDP and NC produced a self-scripted narrative on Kashmir. This was a narrative where Kashmiris were presented as economically deprived, ignorant and alienated. In this discourse, demands for better economic packages and end to human rights violations masked the historical injustice met by the people.
The cyclic of protests in 2008, 2009 and 2010 disturbed the dominant discourse of normalcy and peace and yet again dislodged the narrative that Kashmiris have given their consent. These three consecutive summers, J&K saw massive agitations around different issues.
The last government failed utterly in the state, plunging Kashmir further into the abyss of violence. So the question is – why are wrong policies of New Delhi forcing the fifth generation in Kashmir to stay away from the mainstream politics and take a different vocabulary?
(Author is JRF, Department of Sociology)