From land row to election row

By K.N. Pandit

Emotive land row over Amaranth Shrine yatra has barely died down when another row – the election row -  has surfaced to keep Kashmir pot boiling. October elections to the legislative assembly in the J&K State appear to be in doldrums with two mainstream political parties, namely National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party formally declaring situation not conducive. The Hurriyat Conference, known for its uncompromising opposition to democratic process, had already expressed itself against it.

However, the PCC, finding itself on the horns of dilemma as usual, has come out with a very ambiguous statement. It said that the high command shall decide what to do as if it shares no responsibility of sharp downslide in the political situation of the State weeks before it quit office in utter ignominy.

With two mainstream parties and the opposition poised for postponement of elections, it can be safely inferred that the government’s insistence of sticking to the schedule is likely to meet with some hard-hitting reaction of these parties like declaring a boycott. They seem to have chalked out their strategy and now the ball is in the court of Union Home Ministry.

The question is this: Is the demand of postponement actually based on the ground situation or is it a ploy to further exacerbate anti-India passion that has taken the valley into its grip with the land row episode?

The two political parties have just expressed inadvisability of holding schedule elections, but have not spelt clinching reasons for doing so. Observers link it with the land deal concluded between the Jammu Sangharsh Samiti and the State government following which Jammu movement was called off. Jammuits called it a victory of historic Jammu movement.

While the deal is welcomed by people all over the country, discordant notes have come from some small quarters posing either legal luminaries or left intellectuals. N. G. Noorani, the well-known columnist went to the length of calling it an “illegal deal”. Some pseudo- academics and their fellows on the bandwagon joined their voice with that of Noorani at al.

Their chronic and irreversible obsession against Hindu nationalists beggars no description. They apply the prescription to the deal, and try to blow its imagined adverse consequences out of proportion.

Negative approaches like these carry little conviction and less commitment. Their antics are expressly meant to reinforce separatist tendency among some Kashmiris. Political parties crave for such misplaced moral support to their undisclosed intentions.

Postponement of assembly election for a specific period of time is permissible under the union and the state constitution. Therefore the option before the Union government to accept the plea of local parties and postpone the elections should not be difficult to concede. But any decision like that will give rise to several questions. For example: (a) is the MHA fully convinced that ground situation in the valley is not conducive to holding elections in October 2008? (b) Does the assessment of political parties coincide with the assessment of the Governor and the intelligence agencies? (c) What if Jammu and Ladakh declare their opposition to the demand of the valley-based parties and ask for holding elections as per schedule in October? And (d) in case of postponing elections on the basis of ground situation not being conducive, what would be the norms of feasibility in which elections will be held? Who will set the norms — political parties, intelligence agencies, Governor or the separatists?

The MHA shall have to consider these and other questions. Two mainstream political parties are locked in a grim struggle for power. This is a game of bitter political rivalry. If the rivalry is purely on ideological basis, it is a healthy sign in a democracy. But the general feeling is that they covet the seat of power rather than the ideal of serving the people.

On the surface, the NC sticks to its “nationalist” stance. It affirms no intention of secession from India and accession to Pakistan. Furthermore, the father-son duo in NC has very categorically said that they are neither for “azaadi” nor for accession to Pakistan. However, they have staked their claim for greater autonomy, which in fact means back to three heads, which the Maharaja had conceded at the time of signing accession.

Retracing the steps is not easy either for the NC or for New Delhi. Former PM Atal Bihari had told Farooq to spell out where autonomy under given provisions to the State of J&K did not meet the demand of NC so that he would see to it. Farooq Abdullah had no tangible suggestion to offer.

It should be reminded that whatever central government’s laws are made applicable to J&K, these have to go through very complicated and foolproof constitutional and legal process. These laws and regulations were extended to J&K State on the request of the state authorities, which had sought the agreement of its legislature in advance. Moreover no laws are extended to J&K State unless the state assembly and the parliament endorse it and the President gives his assent. It is easy to say that all this process should be done away with.

We know that J&K is a deficit state. Its economy is fragile. Its industrial base is weak and almost negligible for various reasons. Therefore the centre has the obligation of creating a support structure to sustain its economy. This factor cannot be wished away because geographical and political conditions dictate terms.

By and large State governments have rarely agreed to investment by big industrialists and business magnates in the country. They are apprehensive of Indian business class making deep inroads into what they want a restricted region. A couple of factories like the HMT and Wuyan Cement Factory run under public sector arrangement are in an appalling condition, and hence counter productive. Tourist industry is primitive and forbidding in all its aspects. All this speaks of a combination of myopic vision, parochial attitude and stark incompetence.

The net result of this debilitating scenario is that the central government has to bear the brunt of providing doles under various nomenclatures to sustain the economy of the state.

Therefore demand for greater autonomy may sound sweet to the ears of the ill-informed people. In reality, its consequences will be disastrous for the people. When checks and balances are eliminated, the danger of return of hegemonic rule will loom large. In the absence of corrective mechanism, flow of democratic dispensation will encounter hurdles.

Because the PDP is covertly committed to the separatists and militant segment, it has to whip up communal and sub-national sensitivity among the valley population in a manner that yields results. If it succeeds in getting elections postponed, the message that will flow to its constituency is that the government indirectly acknowledges its inability to exert the authority of the state. That will prove a turning point in contemporary political history of the state.

The perception of these two major actors on the political scene is not to be taken as something really consensual. There is vital divergence of views. While the PDP underrates the idea of Kashmiri identity as an entity by itself, National Conference carries big historical baggage of nationalism and Kashmiri identity as the hall mark of its political ideology. Although both have asserted the impracticality of October elections, yet their perceptions are diametrically opposed to one another.  The common denominator in their stance is their unwillingness to lead the people. In the process they vie with one another in letting the masses lead them instead. It is also a subtle game for Kashmir Sultanate in which two houses are involved like those of the Umayyad and the Abbasids in mediaeval ages.

Mew Delhi has to open the issue for pragmatic discussion. The Election Commission is not empowered to debate the subtleties of a political issue and it should not have chosen to talk to the concerned party leaders on the issue of holding or not holding the election in October.

As has been hinted, the constitution provides for postponement of an election under special circumstances. If the home ministry veers round that decision, it must engage the ambivalent leaders in a serious debate and demand concrete reasons for postponement. In case the reasons satisfy the home ministry, it must obtain firm commitment from the actors on their manifestoes and agenda which their parties will pursue after participating in assembly elections. It has to ensure that gimmicks like “healing touch” are rejected as an instrument of blackmail. Further, the centre must ensure that election manifestoes of political parties state in clear terms their policy of restitution of secular institutions in the State after an elected government is formed. This essentially must address the issue of exiled religious minority.

(The writer is the former Director of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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