J and K heading for assembly election

By K.N. Pandit

After nearly two months of half-hearted affirmative and negative posturing, political parties in Jammu and Kashmir are gearing up for 7-stage elections to the state assembly beginning with first tie on November 17 in Ladakh region.

Two mainstream political parties, Congress and National Conference have kick-started election campaigning, while PDP, the accidental political pigmy, is still busy debating the option whether it should or should not participate. Its hesitation comes from commitment made to separatists of securing pre-requisites before going to polls.

In more than one way, the forthcoming election will be unique in the history of post-accession election process in the state.  Separatists have vowed to enforce poll boycott, which is their patent policy ever since the rise of armed insurgency in Kashmir.

Sajjad Lone, chairman of J&K Peoples’ Conference – a component of APHC (Mirwaiz) – is sore over Prime Minister’s tepid response to his nondescript conflict resolving agenda. He has not only called for poll boycott by his party but has also announced the agenda of actively launching a campaign in his constituencies to persuade the electorate not to participate in elections. He appears to be too willing to defy the law of the land and also deny the people their right to elect their representatives.

Separatists and secessionists led by two factions of the Hurriyat are hopeful that a large section of electorate in Kashmir Valley would boycott polls and thus show to the world that India is on a slippery ground in Kashmir. PDP patron Mufti Saeed is trying to draw mileage from a grim situation of which his party is the prime architect.

The apprehension of a total boycott is giving sleepless nights to the policy planners in New Delhi. The last minute decision by the EC to make arrangements for special polling booths for the extirpated Kashmiri Pandit voters in Udhampur, Jammu and Delhi is an indicator of sorts because the same demand made by this segment of state electorate during assembly elections of 1996 and 2002 was cursorily brushed aside.

From a recent statement of Dr. Farooq Abdullah, the patron of National Conference and party’s candidate for chief ministry, National Conference has decided against alliance with any other party either for elections or power sharing. Dr. Farooq Abdullah appears to be confident that his party has regained its popularity not only in Kashmir but also in Jammu despite recent turmoil in both regions of the state and its impact not only on his but on all regional political parties. With Congress’ chances bleak in the valley and less hopeful in Jammu region, NC may be feeling reassured of valley-based dissident Congress leaders changing allegiance to it.

Dr. Farooq’s statement hinting at some broad outlines of NC’s election policy is met by PDP’s forty-page document on party’s perception of a solution of Kashmir issue. While Farooq has succinctly stated that there is no chage in NC’s stand on “greater autonomy” concept, Mufti Saeed’s document goes into more details of party’s concept of “self-rule.”

A comparative study of the two stands, viz greater autonomy versus self-rule shows that in spirit National Conference believes that since existing physical boundaries cannot be changed, and involuntary movement of masses of people is unacceptable on the basis of conflict resolution norms recognized by the UN bodies and subsidiaries, it confines its concerns to the part of the state under Indian control.  Thus if greater autonomy becomes a reality, its application will have nothing to do with territories beyond the LoC.

But Mufti Saeed’s document on “self-rule” makes several proposals for both parts of the state, meaning the Indian and the Pakistani part without asking for dissolving the existing LOC. The ideas like regional council, dual currency, visa-less travel and trade etc. are steps, which, if stabilized over a period of time, would, by their very nature, lead to a sort of confederation of regions, the proposition once thrown up by Owen Dixon in his plan for solving Kashmir question.

The common wavelength between the suggestions of NC and PDP, the two entrenched rival parties in the valley, is of the State returning to the position that emanated from the instrument of accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh on October 26, 1947. Both demand annulment of Accords signet by the state and central leadership onwards of 1947.

The point of divergence between the two is that while NC wants to remain confined to present geographical limits of the State, PDP envisions the pre-1947 geographical entity called the State of Dogra ruling house.

But some basic questions arise in the case of self-rule theory of PDP. While it categorically demands withdrawal of Indian army from its present position, no doubt a confused and vague demand, it does not say the same thing about Pakistan Army stationed and operating in PoK including the Northern Areas.

Secondly, the 40-page document of Mufti Saeed, makes no mention whether the training camps in PoK have to be liquidated and whether the insurgents in Kashmir and other parts of the State have to be disarmed? While PDP patron claims to be issuing timely warnings to the Indian Prime Minister that time was running out, he makes no mention whether elimination of gun and gun culture was the pre-requisite of any peace and reconciliation process.

It is obvious that any comprehensive plan of self-rule envisaging a solution of  Kashmir issue  cannot  brush under carpet the case of hundreds of thousands of state citizens displaced from present PoK in 1947,  and the religious cleansing of the Hindus in the valley brought about in  1990. This sizeable chunk of nearly a million displaced people cannot be left to the whims of short-sighted politicians.

If the basic thinking is that the State returns to its position of 26 October 1947, ignores constitutional, legal and administrative validation of integrating the state into  the national state structure, and rescinds various  Accords between the union and the state government, then, of course,  legitimizing  abolishing of monarchy over the State in 1948 stands flawed. The geographical entity now called Jammu and Kashmir State was created by Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1846.  Today it is being dragged to the operation table for surgery or butchery. It must be rescued and returned to the safe custody of the people who decided to accede to India in 1947, and not to those who have put it on sale.

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

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