Upcoming Elections In Kashmir
By Adfar Shah
05 November, 2014
My own commitment to understand the social and political phenomena in Kashmir has been fundamentally shaped by the very identity of belonging to the State. The first observation which needs to be highlighted is simply that the haste for conducting elections in Kashmir despite a massive flood disaster is nothing but the result of ego-politics and purely based on political motives. Belonging to a remote hamlet ‘Watlar’ of central Kashmir (which is still a hub of high political culture) and having been observing even minute political engineering and socialization occurring at smaller levels, I have been witnessing the politics of bias, favouritism, visionlessness and power lust only and that is why dissent and mainstream politics exists side by side without any practical solution to the conflict situation so far. Now when we are going to vote again for next assembly elections starting from November 25 to December 20 in five phases, the ghost of uncertainty still haunts us as elections in Kashmir mean tight security and in the presence of thousands of soldiers. The fact remains that Kashmir psephology is not much difficult to be understood as it remains restricted to the ideas of election boycott, issues of autonomy, self rule, unemployment of youth, security dilemma and the never addressed issues of Bijli, Pani and Sadak (electricity, water supply and roads) and this time a new item ‘floods’ and blame game about who did what and who failed, slogans of rehabilitation of flood victims will also be discussed everywhere, as understood. The separatist brigade will campaign for boycott as usual but once again the elections will end with high rural turn out and low urban turn out as usual. Army and other security agencies will develop the strategies of maintaining the normalcy and local police will face a tough duty of maintaining the Neta (politicians) brigade.
The prevailing armed conflict and the psycho-social pathology in Kashmir needs to be seen both from the theoretical prism and sociology on the ground to realize what keeps uncertainty (sense of separatism, secessionism and anti-Indian) and mainstream politics (Pro-nation) sustain at a time and somewhat routinises it every election. The fact remains that elections come and go, the chaotic context remains the same along with day today issues and un-addressed problems especially the lack of feel secure psyche, a grave issue that continues to haunt Kashmiris.
They say behind every method lies a belief. But when it comes to Kashmir, beliefs seem to have turned to skepticism and reality to rhetoric. Who is actually benefiting from the chaos ridden Kashmir, still remains a question with an alarming question mark at its end. Most certainly delaying tactics by the power apparatus in solving the dispute aided by mass alienation, mass unemployment, bad governance, corruption, etc., has shown a dysfunctional trend and lead to the poisoning of the mental geographies of the people of the valley. The credit goes to politics devoid of any vision and acute leadership crisis.
The ontological belief that reality is socially constructed also does not hold good for Kashmir because the so called socially constructed reality is all shaped up by prolonged vulnerability in the valley. Who represents the reality of Kashmir is a more painful question. Who represents the masses is a more dreadful question as a plethora of so called leaders claim people’s loyalty. Under the debris of doctored realities and (dis)beliefs, knowledge of reality hardly comes to surface and what one sees is mostly a mirage of pseudo-realities which actually keeps the mass confusion alive. In Kashmir, even the social reality is constructed through intentional and politically motivated actions and social interactions and the masses hardly get to know or understand what is actually happening. I always say in the valley there prevails “We are Me” approach by which I mean that whatever the self proclaimed leaders utter, they think it is peoples voice by default, which is not a reality at all. Preaching on Kashmir massively differs from practice in Kashmir and our political leaders know it better how they are responsible for the mess Kashmir is in at the moment. Even researches don’t yield much reality as data we produce more often is manufactured. The credit goes to moral corruption and lack of professionalism in every field. My teacher at Kashmir University rightly says, conflict devastated everything from moral wealth to aesthetic richness, from economic loot to corruption as routine, from unaccounted killings to acute disparities.
This assembly election has some new things to mark some attention like the significant entry of BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party) with its mission 44+ for Jammu and Kashmir. It remains to be seen how they are going to design their campaign in the State especially in the valley where their footing is too weak and where they need to make some dent on issues other than their usual development slogans. Also what can be their manifesto especially the valley centric one, seeing their article 370 abolition slogan earlier during the parliamentary elections which eventually reflected in their non-performance in the valley. While BJP’s manifesto was widely criticized in the social and intellectual circles the then, the party now seems gaining much ground in Jammu and Ladakh but surely will face a tough fight against the massive PDP (Mufti Sayed Led Peoples Democratic Party) as the state especially the valley is under the PDP wave at the moment, which I call Mufti Wave spread out of NC’s misfortunes, mishandled flood situation, lack of reach out to masses, etc,. BJP despite knowing their rapport in the valley has engaged in spreading good will by sidelining the abolition of article 370 slogans and talking development in the valley but they should know that valley needs something more than development. The honourable PM before visiting the state twice due to floods also came to Jammu and while putting his feet in charismatic Atal Ji’s shoes, talked’ Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat (Humanity,Democracy & Kashmiriyat-kashmir’s identity) but now the time has come when such utopias need to be actualized and their manifesto should talk about their vision on Kashmir which should reflect ‘Insaniyat and Jamhooriyat’ while keeping both Jammu and Ladakh aspirations in consideration. As far the ruling coalition is concerned (NC & Congress) their lack of unity besides anti-incumbency factor now can cost them as they keep criticizing each other in public. PDP obviously appears strong throughout the state and has an energetic young brigade to work for its success but not so smoothly. I believe it only has a few tough seats to win against the big political players of the state especially in Kashmir. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah (Grandson of the Charismatic leader Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah) has already declined to contest from the home turf Ganderbal Constituency as the seat was too unpredictable for him this time. Seeing his declining graph in the said constituency Omar has fielded the local young politician Sheikh Ishfaq Jabbar, son of a late revered and much followed politician Sheikh Jabbar who was killed by unknown gun men on April 18, 1990.The competition is still not a cake walk for Omar’s brigade as Jabbar Junior despite having a massive public support will be facing the giant killer Qazi Mohammad Afzal, a senior PDP leader with a strong base and experience, who had earlier defeated Omar Abdullah in 2002 elections. However in both the cases there appear 50-50 chances as both Jabbar Jr. and Qazi are treated big politicians and While Jabbar though not so senior in politics but contains the charisma of his late politician father and much revered Late Sheikh Jabbar and Qazi a much experienced and having served as a cabinet Minister earlier as well will definitely give a tough fight to Omar’s National Conference. Talking of the Ganderbal Constituency alone it purely seems the real fight is between NC and PDP but in most other constituencies it will be BJP vs PDP.
Politicians in Kashmir are now slowly realizing that public has developed enough understanding due to the prolonged suffering and therefore cannot be befooled now. Therefore much attention is being paid perhaps for the first time in distributing mandates by all parties. In order to succeed they also are in search of some content and some substance not mere rhetoric. Therefore they are trying to cling to some pressing issues like Article 370 and special status of Jammu and Kashmir State, revocation of armed forces special powers act(AFSPA),Kashmir issue solution, etc,. Keeping politics, vote bank creation and hoodwinking innocent and unaware voters apart, all the political parties and national leaders irrespective of party affiliations need to understand the State, and move forward on peace initiatives and development rather than rubbing salt on the wounds or spilling beans against each other as routinely observed in Kashmir psephology so far.
The fact remains that even some separatist leaders had recently hailed the BJP’s concern on K-Issue during the Vajpayee era. However the painful question remains whether the Centre is really thinking with empathy on Kashmir and it should not deliver peanuts but the real relief for the flood victims’ for their proper rehabilitation. Already one thousand crore and later 745 crores have been announced by the Prime Minister, but the state has demanded a massive relief of forty four thousand crores from the central government. It remains to be seen what will be given by the Centre to the next government for the rehabilitation.
BJP needs a rethink on their J&K policy because every time they discuss Kashmir even casually, an enemy perception for the party evolves in the valley. People argue that it is either their craze for hoisting a flag in Lal Chowk to prove Kashmiris’ as anti nationals or their pledge to abrogate article 370 without any positive and developmental vision on conflict torn Kashmir and return of peace.
Elections come and go as a routine affair but the issues remain unaddressed. Mostly people vote for Bijli, Pani and Sadak and amidst all this, the politics of probes, delaying tactics on Kashmir, interlocution drama, reconciliation mess, faulty mediation, ego clashes, and bad governance continues.
Kashmir undoubtedly is today the victim of not only the fusion of conflicting horizons but the confusion of many political and theoretical horizons. Dual standards, critical, social and organizational issues and the ‘the interests of the powerful’ in Kashmir continue to haunt the Valley.
The fact remains that Kashmir and its special identity within the Indian Union has always been politicized for vote bank and the suffering of the natives has always been ignored resulting in people’s ‘disbelief in everything’ culture. The so called ambassadors of peace have over the years manufactured the conflicting ideologies on Kashmir (based on religious, sectarian, ethnic identities and distinctions) to hit its pluralistic ethos by hitting the social fabric simply to keep the lid of uncertainty open.
Jammu and Kashmir along with northeast India needs governance both at the centre and within that understands their prolonged suffering and devises ways of reconciliation in the strife torn regions rather than politicize the historical wrongs that have been done against them and the party that talks about it may definitely gain some public support. Let us see which way the wind blows this time. Things may change for sure but conflict along with civilian killings may never cease.
(Adfar Shah is a well known (Kashmiri) Sociologist and Columnist at various prestigious International & National Media groups like Eurasia Review, Foreign policy.org,Pointblank7,South Asian idea, Kashmir Times, Analyst World etc,. The article first appeared in Kashmir Times).Mail at email@example.com
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