The Context Of Electoral Politics In Kashmir: Implications Of Conflict Situation And Separatist Politics

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Mir Shahid            Electoral

It was in the wake of disillusionment with the internal politics in general that the present phase of conflict was started in the Valley. What marked the beginning of this phase was the decision of some of the Kashmiri youth who had participated in the elections as contestants, election agents, campaigners and sympathisers of candidates to cross over to Pakistan administered Kashmir to take training in armed militancy. Moreover, apart from armed militancy, a spontaneous popular upsurge grew against the Indian State that eroded the mainstream politics in the Valley of Kashmir. The separatist politics manifested both through the armed militancy as well as spontaneous political response took a more organised form with the establishment of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in 1993. The establishment of APHC as an umbrella organisation was necessitated by the proliferation of militant groups which were at times operating at cross purposes. The ideological differences between these organisations and their internal strife, especially the war declared by Hizbul Mujahideen on the JKLF, generated a need for a loose-knit organisation that could give a sense of unity and common direction to those participating in the movement .With common people openly identifying with separatist politics, the farcical nature of the electora (…) So much was the sway of the separatist politics in the Kashmir Valley, that it completely eroded the mainstream politics right from 1989.

 While Jammu and Ladakh regions remained more or less normal, there was no scope for the mainstream power politics in the Valley. As the legitimacy of the mainstream politics was openly questioned by the militants on the one hand, and the defiant masses on the streets of Kashmir on the other, the state was placed under the President’s rule for a prolonged period of time. In 1996, the electoral process was restored but the government that was formed after the Assembly election could not gain credence in the Valley of Kashmir. Since the elections were organised with the help of the security forces and the counter-insurgents, the government formed after the elections was not seen to be representing the popular will. Though NC had given the slogan of ‘autonomy’ to regain its hold in the local politics, there were not many takers of this slogan. Despite the restoration of political process, separatist sentiment continued to hold sway. Though Kashmiris, by this time, had started reacting against the ‘culture of violence’ and very subtly rejecting and de-legitimising militancy, their sympathies with separatist politics continued to be expressed through various demonstrations organised by the Hurriyat Conference. Mainstream politics, therefore, continued to remain challenged.

A number of factors changed the popular response towards electoral and mainstream politics. Firstly, the urge for normalcy after the prolonged period of militant violence led to some kind of change of attitude towards the process of governance. By the time the 2002 Assembly election was concluded, the political processes related to governance had already found some legitimate space in Kashmir’s politics. Without any contradiction towards their separatist sentiments, people started involving themselves in the ‘politics related to governance’. This process was further boosted by a change in the nature of political mobilisation. With the emergence of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as another Kashmir-based party, not only the electoral competition became quite intense, but the electoral discourse also became more grounded in the local realities. PDP referred to the Human Rights violations taking place in Kashmir and the need for providing ‘healing touch’ to people, and also raised the issue of conflict and its resolution through the process of dialogue both with both Pakistan and militants. Also significant were the initiatives being taken by the Vajpayee-led Government: declaring that India had made mistakes in Kashmir, Vajpayee made a commitment to hold a ‘free and fair election’. This commitment was an indirect acknowledgement of the intrusive role that the Centre had been playing in the power politics of the State since 1950s.

Separatism and Electoral Politics

Defiance of the boycott call and enthusiastic participation of people in the Assembly elections resulted in a sense of demoralisation in the separatist camp. The growing space of the mainstream politics did not induce a simultaneous shrinking of the separatist space, but it did lead to a change in orientation within the separatist camp. The impact of this shift could be seen during the Parliamentary elections, when Sajjad Gani Lone, a prominent separatist took the decision to contest the 2009 Parliamentary election from Baramulla constituency of North Kashmir. Though the present phase of Kashmir separatist politics was initiated in 1989, it was only in 1993 (…)

Sajjad Lone led one of the leading separatist organisations, the People’s Conference (PC) which was a part of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) right from the time of its inception in 1993. As an amalgam of the separatist and militant organisations active in Kashmir, APHC represented the popular separatist sentiment in Kashmir.18 A G Lone, father of Sajjad Lone and the founder of the People’s Conference was one of the most prominent leaders of the APHC.Though many other separatists had earlier joined the electoral fray, the Sajjad Lone’s decision to contest Parliamentary election had an altogether different impact. Being a high profile separatist, at par with the top separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik, one could see in his decision to contest election a crack within the separatist politics.

The crack was very small, not seeming to affect the separatists overtly but in reality had had a great psychological effect on them. More so since his decision to contest election came in the wake of the massive participation of Kashmiris in the Assembly elections. Separatists had been very aggressive in their boycott call during the 2009 Parliamentary elections. Though the call was initially given by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the hardliner leader of the Hurriyat (G), soon the other faction of Hurriyat led by Mirwaiz Omer Farooq and other organisations joined the boycott campaign. The voter enthusiasm was quite low this time. Against 51% turnout during the Assembly election, only 31.24% votes were registered during this election. It was partially the impact of the aggressive campaigning by the separatists that the voter participation during the Parliamentary elections was relatively lower.

Bureaucracy in Electoral Politics                          

With the arrival of Shah Faesal into the realms of mainstream politics, many rumours, speculations, apprehensions and confusions are floating in the air. Dr Shah Faesal the 2009 Indian Administrative Services’ topper resigned from his service in protest against the unabated killings of Kashmiris and the lack of any sincere reach-out from the Union Government. Since his resignation from the service he is being constantly debated and discussed on news channels, newspapers, in schools, colleges, universities, clubs etc. almost everywhere. Indian right wing media has equated the decision of Shah Faisal with the radicalization and blamed Pakistan for this radicalization. It is of the opinion that Faisal was radicalized there during his tenure in Harvard University by the agencies.

 Pakistan and a section of Kashmiri society has blamed Indian agencies for the decision of resignation of the top bureaucrat with the purpose to engage the young Kashmiris with the electoral politics. The Post-Burhan politics (2016) of Kashmir is sensitive and the youth are totally dejected with the Indian policies and politics with regard to the Jammu and Kashmir conflict. Dr Fasails decision for most of the Kashmiris is just a new card from the Indian agencies to promote goodwill among the people so that to be part of the coming electoral politics.

There’s a section of people who are taking the decision of Dr Faisal in a positive way and are of the view that the society needs a leader like him. He has been honest and straightforward in his active service and will remain in the politics too. They are Optimistic that the way Kejriwal and Imran Khan has added a new nationalistic colour to the Indian and Pakistani politics, Dr Faisal too will add the same to Kashmir politics.

The experts and the news channels discussed about the future plans and intentions and he has been very firm about his sincerity that he wants to serve his nation and in that process he may contest elections also. Dr Faisal’s interview in which he was talking about the same issues and the anchor posed number of questions and one of the questions was, “we have trusted many in the past and they betrayed us but for how long are we going to trust”. He replied that either the political space should be shunned down completely or the sincere and honest ones should be given chance to deliver. But it is interesting to discuss this political space that he talked about. Do we have this space in Kashmir? Since the Hurriyat does not subscribe to electoral politics, there is little scope for me to put my administrative skill and experience into practice by joining the Hurriyat,” he said during a presser in Srinagar.

Prof Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a Kashmir-based political expert, believes Faesal’s politics might not be as new as people would like to believe. “Mainstream politicians from the regional National Conference, PDP and other parties who are in electoral processes have used words like ‘azaadi’ and ‘plebiscite’ to either strike a chord with the public or to undermine separatist politics,” he said.

Now everything is around us the mixture of erstwhile separatism and bureaucracy in the electoral fora there’s a growing ambiguity and obscurity regarding fortunes of mainstream in kashmir. The incoming assembly elections would be a litmus test to unravel the reality of such political compulsions with a clear insight of antagonistic poles in the fray.

Writer Mir Shahid can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed are authors own and doesn’t necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Legitimate.

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