Elections in Kashmir have perhaps been as much an issue as the dispute over Kashmir itself. Fact is that elections in Kashmir have hardly been conducted out of any genuine desire to empower the people which is, at least in theory, the purported purpose of elections in a democracy. Alongside this, elections in Kashmir have had always a huge question mark around them. They have mostly been rigged to bring to power individuals who can protect and advance India’s goals in Kashmir at the expense of Kashmir’s interests. Parties have also been liberally aided and funded by the Indian state to create a false democratic competition of equally false narratives. This, in turn, has been used to divide the people along issues that help the State to deflect focus from the dispute over Kashmir’s future to matters that are trivial or deceptive. As one of our participants points out that the entire process is reduced to farce where a bunch of dangling carrots is used to cheat the people with promises of development, jobs, justice, etc. Since big time money is involved in sponsoring and sustaining the electoral politics in Kashmir, a good number of individuals and parties find the lure of money too good to resist. As a bonus, when these politicians make it to the corridors of power, they enjoy unbridled power and influence. The State usually condones their corrupt and nepotistic ways in an undeclared quid pro quo as these politicians surreptitiously push Indian interests in Kashmir.
The most absurd and hilarious argument that is often made to the people is that elections and voting are a means of empowering the people. But history shows us just the opposite. Every election in Kashmir has disempowered the people and disenfranchised them. Every election has strengthened the status quo and only helped in turning Kashmir into a colony dependent upon the Indian state. This has been a pattern right from the first elections in Kashmir some 60 years ago. Governments that have come to power as a result of elections have systematically removed and neutralised whatever political, institutional and economic freedoms Kashmir had after it was brought under Indian control through a disputed and questionable accession treaty. Elections in Kashmir have at best been used as a counter-insurgency measure to quell the resistance against the occupation, or at worst as a tool of colonisation. As most of our participants note, the Indian state has always sought to present elections and people’s participation in these elections as an endorsement of its control of the territory. This is the reason why the Indian state was recently rattled to the core when no more than 7% Kashmiri voters turned out for election to an Indian parliamentary seat. But, as the participants point out, Kashmir as an international dispute involving the right of self-determination, remains unaffected by such elections whether people vote or boycott the elections. Several of our participants also believe, as do most people in Kashmir, that elections are only for managing day-to-day matters of governance. There seems little weight in this argument as history shows that governance has been efficient in Kashmir under the Governor’s rule rather than that of the so-called elected representatives of the people. And, how hollow and sham this term of ‘elected representatives of people’ is, can partly be gauged from the corrupt and incompetent ways of these ‘elected representatives’ where they fail even to deliver basic amenities to the people whom they claim to represent. More importantly, the fakery of elections is on full display everyday in Kashmir as the ‘elected representatives’ preside over a merciless extreme repression atypical of a police state. This has now become the default mode of governance in Kashmir thanks to our ‘elected representatives’ and thanks to the pretensions of an electoral democracy.
The big question is this: if elections are projected as a democratic expression and approval of Indian position on Kashmir, how about an equally democratic means of determining the wishes of the people to settle the issue for good through an even more robust and reliable democratic tool of determining people’s political aspirations — referendum?
For now over to the debate:
Former DIG J&K
Elections aren’t going to change the nature of the Kashmir dispute. Therefore, holding elections in a disputed region is meaningless as they aren’t substitute to the settlement of the issue. We have seen over and over again that majority of the population here don’t participate in the elections. The disputed nature of Kashmir hasn’t and won’t change by holding or not holding elections in the State.
Some people say that India sells these elections at international forums as an argument to strengthen its case on Kashmir. I don’t know what India does at the international forums, but what I know is that both India and Pakistan have agreed at the UN to the fact that Kashmir is a disputed territory.
So according to the UN itself, holding elections in a disputed area doesn’t count.
Even Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh has recently said that they will find a permanent settlement to Kashmir. Well, you find a settlement to a dispute and that is what Kashmir is. And he isn’t referring to Pakistan side of Kashmir only, rather both the sides.
The claims that this part of Kashmir is settled and only the other side of Kashmir needs to be settled is mere posturing. There is no truth in that argument. Such statements carry no weight and are only coined for vote-bank politics.
Both parts are disputed and both parts await a final settlement. Coming to the frequently asked question that how can day-to-day affairs be addressed while the disputed legacy continues? As an expert, I would say that such administrative arrangements be made which will look to the day-to-day affairs of the people.
Regarding the Hurriyat’s reiteration to boycott the elections, I believe they are correct when they say that elections in a disputed area don’t count.
It would be wrong to say that elections and the disputed nature of Kashmir are two separate things. Elections that India has been holding in Kashmir for the past many decades aren’t meant to let people choose their representatives or strengthen the democratic ideals. Elections in Kashmir are a means of legitimising Indian control over Kashmir. The Indian state has often projected elections in Kashmir as a referendum in its favour.
Another sinister campaign that is being projected by the Indian state is that elections empower both the people and their representatives. This is akin to a bunch of carrots that costermongers hang in front of their donkey’s noses to keep them going.
The representatives chosen by the people ultimately work for the same machinery whose main aim is to strengthen Indian control over Kashmir. Instead of representing interests of Kashmiris, these so-called representatives act as pawns of the Indian state collaborating and justifying Indian repressive measures in Kashmir.
In free societies, elections are seen as a tool of expressing people’s freedom and power. But, in Kashmir, elections have been used to disempower the masses. Take, for instance, the recent case of an Indian army officer using a Kashmiri, Farooq Ahmad, as a human shield. It’s no doubt a war crime, according to the international law. But instead of punishing the officer, his act was commended. This corroborates that Kashmir is run by India through a militaristic set-up and elections are just a means to hoodwink the world into believing it’s a democracy. Had election been a tool for empowerment rather than subjugation, the offending officer would have been answerable to the people. In such a set-up, the local representative would have been enough powerful to drag him to a court of law. But just the opposite happened as the officer was ‘bestowed’ with a commendation certificate for his act and the so-called representatives of Kashmiri people elected through a ‘democratic process’ went along with this sordid episode.
I don’t think, for all the obvious reasons, that pro-freedom leaders are wrong when they call for an election boycott. Elections in Kashmir, however free and fair, are still a means to weaken the case of people’s right to self-determination. Those who vote or are made to vote on the pretext of development are actually giving legitimacy to India’s presence in Kashmir, though most people do this unknowingly.
On the contrary, a low voter turnout weakens India’s case on Kashmir both within and internationally. We have seen that in the recent parliamentary elections where only seven percent polling took place.
Muhammad Yousuf Dar
Research scholar KU
Elections and Kashmir dispute are two different entities. For the latter has its own acknowledged and established history when soon after the decolonisation of the subcontinent, the issue was taken to the United Nations corridors and continues to be dispute wanting settlement. The United Nations Security Council passed several resolutions on Kashmir regarding plebiscite but nothing concrete happened. The UN also passed a resolution to the effect that “elections aren’t substitute to referendum”. It also categorically denied any relations between the elections and the Kashmir dispute.
However, to run the day-to-day administrative affairs, elections in Kashmir are but a necessity and hence an acknowledgement of the fact that the elections in Kashmir are meant for Bijli, Sadak and Paani. Some individuals vote to get sarkari naukri, some vote to avenge personal feuds. There is also a good number of those who vote because they get carried away by the lofty promises of development, jobs and other benefits made by the electioneering politicians. These promises are hardly ever fulfilled. There are others who not only vote but also support the election process because they get undue benefits in terms of cash, contracts, etc., from the elected politicians.
The Hurriyat has always been in opposition of holding elections in Kashmir given the fact the mandate of the elections is projected as the acceptance of the Indian status quo by the people. Thus, the world community at large stands misinformed through the medium of these elections as it gives a wrong impression that Kashmiris have accepted the status quo.
If the elections had been the yardstick for measuring the political sentiments in the Valley, the urge for the freedom would have died down long ago and people would have accepted the State’s accession to India. But this did’t happen; rather, the call for freedom has intensified with time and even after holding so many elections whether fair or fraudulent in Kashmir over the past seven decades. The emergence of the mass uprisings calling for freedom in the Valley in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016 are glaring examples that people have rejected the status quo on Kashmir. Therefore, even if people participate in elections in J&K, they won’t accept it as a substitute neither to the right to self-determination nor to plebiscite. Elections won’t neutralise the azadi sentiments in the Valley.
Elections are being conducted in Kashmir for over six decades, yet it didn’t change the nature of the dispute. The United Nation Security Council doesn’t accept the credibility of elections being held in a disputed territory. Therefore, if India continues with its election exercise in Kashmir, the basic disputable nature of the issue won’t change. Elections have a limited role in Kashmir. They are only for governance.
At the same time, I want to say that there is no point in boycotting the elections. Whether one boycotts the election or not, there will be representatives who will govern the State. So, in that case there is no point of boycotting the elections. It doesn’t matter at all what India tells to the outside world vis-a-vis elections in Kashmir. Let them infer what they want to, it doesn’t matter at international forums.
Those who fear that elections will change the dynamics of the Kashmir issue fail to understand that when it couldn’t change the dynamics for more than six decades what can it do now.
Having said so, it must be stressed here that these elections have failed to yield their fruit of good governance and providing quality life to the people. This has resulted in deep alienation between the masses and the people at the helm. This alienation has now taken the colour of extremism, as we have recently seen.
Whether Kashmir issue and elections are interlinked or separate from each other depends on one’s perception. For many years, the resistance camp has been against the election process because they believe contesting elections or supporting the elections by casting the votes is simply accepting the Indian constitution. But the mainstream parties believe that elections help in maintaining the day-to-day affairs of people because good governance is essential for a better life. They believe that Kashmir issue resolution needs a highly structured dialogue process, while at the same time people need other basic facilities, which can be provided by choosing the representatives through elections. Taking part in elections doesn’t necessarily mean that you endorse the Indian constitution. It depends on your perception as to how you want to help your society. Elections aren’t substitute for the solution of the Kashmir issue. Even in governing the State, elections have a limited capacity.
Ex-president, Bar Association
Elections are a democratic process where people elect their representatives, and this is the purpose of elections all over the world. In Kashmir, however, the situation is different. People here have divergent goals, which makes the process of electing representative through elections a futile exercise. If we look at these two terms: elections and Kashmir issue, we can say that both are dissociated from one another because Kashmir issue is a recognised issue which needs settlement by a proper dialogue process between India and Pakistan. Elections are only for governance and administration. Kashmir issue has the international dimensions and elections couldn’t and can’t in the future prove helpful in settling the issue. Elections just have a limited role to address the State’s day-to-day problems. For past sixty years, elections have been held here, but they haven’t been able to alter the Kashmir issue. If elections could solve the issue, then Sheikh Abdullah would have come up with some resolution who once commanded absolute majority in the state assembly.
Media teacher, Kashmir University
Elections and Kashmir issue are interlinked to a certain extent. Elections in Kashmir are merely a tool used to control and contain the situation or events happening in the Vale. Moreover, elections are simply used to give an impression of normalcy and project them as people’s faith in a democratic set-up. Elections merely seem to be an exercise motivated by a political design. But as far as people are concerned, they need good governance as well. It is important for them to have a good quality life which is possible only after having a good number of schools, universities, healthcare centers, roads and other basic amenities. In that way, elections facilitate fulfillment of the basic needs of the people. But in terms of dispute resolution, elections have always proved futile. They don’t serve the purpose of altering the basic dispute that Kashmir represents.
Javeed Ahmad Dar
Research scholar, Kashmir University
Elections in a disputed territory serve the purpose of the occupier. If we see the bigger picture, we find that elections in Kashmir have been used by India to project the fakery of normalcy to the outside world. They are in great need of it, as the unabashed abuse of human rights in Kashmir land them in a considerable trouble at international platforms. Those who say that the two aren’t interlinked will fail to answer as to why India rigged the 1987 elections.
Had elections been only to represent day-to-day affairs, for good governance and quality life, then what difference would it make for India if A or B runs these affairs?
The fact of the matter is that India wants to handover power only to those people who are loyal to it. Those who are willing to maintain the facade of normalcy and democracy in Kashmir.
Now, coming to the question what about Bijli, Sadak, Paani issues if no elections are held. First, you need to understand that in a disputed territory, these issues are manipulated in such a way that the occupier forces an entire population to be at the mercy of few powerful collaborators. So much so, for mere macadamisation of a road or instalment of an electric transformer in your area, you have to beg in front of an MLA.
Kashmiris must realise one thing that underdevelopment is one of the byproducts of conflict and occupation. If Kashmiris want good governance, quality life, then elections aren’t the solution for that, rather settling the dispute is. Through these elections, India buys time, a lot of time, to devise plans and plots to perpetuate the occupation through means fair or foul. For example, see what elections did to the Article 370. We had our constitution, our prime minister, our flag. What happened to these things?
We allowed India to buy time while fooling ourselves that elections have nothing to do with the dispute.
The simple question is that when elections contested in a disputed territory don’t count, why is India willing to carry on with this futile exercise. The answer is that elections aren’t futile for India, as they yield them time and collaborators to carry on their rule in a disputed land.
Media teacher, Central University
Elections don’t have any bearing on the core Kashmir issue even as successive governments have cited voter turnouts as a mandate for India. However, participation in elections can send out mixed signals about the political aspirations of people, drawing multiple and often distracting interpretations. The day-to-day issues of governance, which people may expect to be addressed through an elected government, seem to prevail over the longstanding political grievances even as one may argue that polls have a limited role. The fact remains that election participation can’t be taken at face value in Kashmir, but it can’t be ignored either, especially when it is seen as a barometer of the situation in the Valley.
There is no clear-cut answer to this question whether elections and Kashmir dispute are related to each other or not. But one thing is clear, whether elections were held or not held in Kashmir, the international narrative about the dispute remained the same throughout. From 1990 to 1996, there was Governor rule, Kashmir was a dispute. Then elections were held and still the nature of the issue is the same. The superficial argument that India has used at the international forums hasn’t helped them to alter the nature of the dispute.
It is true that elections are being held every time in the name of Bijli, Sadak, Paani, yet these politicians aren’t even providing these things to the people.
What the authorities are trying is to camouflage the Kashmir dispute with these elections and false slogans of development.