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Polling in Valley

Editorial. Pradyot Lal. XII. VI. XIV


Kashmir: The Jinxed Mascot



Pradyot Lal-fnbworld By Pradyot Lal


 

Sajjad LoneOmar Abdullah

 

Hurriyat leader
Geelani

Caught between hope of change and the cynicism of drift, Kashmir awaits a long-term mascot. Amidst the hype that surrounds the saffron brigade’s ‘Mission-44’ in Jammu and Kashmir—the magical half-way mark that will ensure electoral supremacy in the key state—lie crucial issues of democratic participation, political legitimacy and the future of the electoral system as a whole. The forthcoming elections mark yet another opportunity to ensure effective governance to counter the separatists seeking to subvert the democratic process.


                        


Bad governance and farcical twists have characterized much of Kashmir’s political and electoral history. New Delhi has often contributed to turning the whole process into a farce by either looking the other way when electoral malpractices have been imposed on the process or by pitchforking dummies as arbiters and chief ministers. One can only hope that 2014 will be different and not turn out to be another costly and tasteless travesty.


The first elections in Kashmir held in 1951 saw the spectacular ascension of Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference (NC). In terms of personality and stature, the Sheikh was unique and charismatic, but imperceptibly at first and graphically later, the subsequent elections that followed were mired in charges of blatant rigging and other electoral felonies. The 1977 elections, held after the lifting of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, were by common consent the first fair reflection of the popular mood. The NC’s decisive victory in 1977 was its most credible assertion as the valley’s predominant political force at that time.


But soon after such an assertion, disillusionment followed as corruption and insensitivity came to  characterize governance. In the 1983 elections, Congress chose to fight on an overtly Hindu agenda and communal polarization and separatism soon infected the atmosphere. For a brief while, the National Conference gravitated towards the overtly Islamist parties and the result was the polarization on communal lines between the Valley and the other regions in J&K. It was during this period that much of what is disagreeable in the state’s politics first came to the fore.

Searching for militantsa

The year 1989 marked the onset of the separatist challenge; the democratic process was rudely disrupted during the insurgency that lasted till the mid-nineties. In 1996, the state had another chance of course correction and the election that year was extremely significant. The National Conference reasserted its clout, but by then it had lost much of its democratic elan and spirit. In a way, the National Conference epitomises the rise and fall of democratic aspirations and content in Kashmir more than any other political formation. During its better years, it served as a window of hope but overall, it has unfortunately flattered only to falter later. Its triumphs and setbacks, its successes and failures, have manifested the democratic experiment in the state and much of the valley’s democratic anxieties have been showcased in the National Conference’s fluctuating political fortunes.


Be that as it may, in 2002, which saw an election considered ‘free and fair’ by the international community, the NC was defeated by a new regional competitor, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chaired by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his assertive daughter Mehbooba Sayeed. The PDP emerged triumphant and promised initially to usher in a new wave of democratic participation in the state. But it also fell into the dangerous groove of nepotism and corruption and the manner in which the party played footsie with the BJP on the Amarnath land row was disastrous.

 

The costly miscalculation presaged the revival of the National Conference and the 2008 elections saw Omar Abdullah’s re-emergence as a key player and chief minister. Omar Abdullah started out as a well-meaning politician who had a markedly different profile from the usual image that had evolved in the valley, but a variety of factors - of which the Congress party’s changed ethos is also an important variant  - has now placed him in a tight spot where he will have to work very hard to retain the once politically impregnable fortress, Ganderbal.

 

The PDP fancies its chances in the valley, while the BJP hopes that some of the Modi magic works in Kashmir as well and it can achieve its much-trumpeted ‘Mission 44.’ In a way, the BJP would like to capitalize on the Hindu vote in the plains which may not go to the beleaguered and fragmented Congress. Meanwhile, the leader of People’s Conference (PC) Sajjad Lone, the dark horse in the pack wants to gain traction on an uncharted route. His journey will have a definite bearing on the final outcome. The desperate attempts by Hurriyat hotheads to enforce boycott are foredoomed and that has been the principal gain so far.


The elections thus provide yet another opportunity to the Indian state and New Delhi to turn the tide in the sensitive state and ensure, through good and effective pro-people governance, that the democratic process is vibrant enough and kicking in Kashmir as well. Truly it will be a litmus test for all stakeholders. Will the outcome usher Rightwing majoritarianism from Kashmir to Kanyakumari?

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