It was a bit of a surprise when I came across a national newspaper which carried the story of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fielding the Right to Information (RTI) activist, Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat, against the National Conference (NC) stalwart, former pro-Plebiscite crusader, former Chief Minister and current Union Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah.
The AAP continues to impress with its guts. Unmindful that the policy of taking on heavyweights may end in a total disaster, and in an effort to emulate its success in the New Delhi Assembly constituency, wherein Arvind Kejriwal defeated Sheila Dikshit easily, AAP has thrown the field open by naming candidates with honest, clean, and respectable reputations, against political superpowers.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is a feisty character, passionate about Kashmir and Kashmiris, and who feels strongly about the suppression of the genuine aspirations of the Kashmiri people. He has been involved with grassroots organisations working for the uplift of Muslims in India, even during his college days. Since returning to Kashmir, he has waged a battle, along with two of his close associates, to spread awareness about the under-used, and very powerful, tool of RTI. Dr Raja has campaigned, through the press, and other forms of media, against the abuse and dilution of the RTI, which was brought about, unfortunately, a while ago, resulting in a ‘toothless’ RTI.
I may not be one who supports the wide participation of Kashmiris in any electoral process, since such a process is often either hijacked by stronger forces for their own benefit, especially down South in Delhi, or ends up electing people who have been ‘regularly paid by Delhi to maintain peace since 1947,’ according to a former Chief of Army Staff.
Current trends show some interesting findings.
One, elections in Kashmir have been generally fair, in terms of the counting of the ballots, since the arrival of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). Two, elections are still not free, since there is a lot of ‘hidden’ funding, driving the participation of people in the electoral process. Three, Kashmiris are prone to be victims of populist tendencies, which result in unsustainable policies, leading to ever-increasing dependence on Delhi for dole-outs and ‘packages.’ Four, despite the best efforts of certain quarters in Kashmir, people still vote with their feet.
The result has been the surrendering of a part of the political space in Kashmir to a group of people who believe in the perpetuation of the status-quo, who have given in to stronger powers, who take pride in ‘taking money to maintain peace.’ While another group in Kashmir, perhaps, stronger than most people think, sits on the fringes, refusing to accept the status quo, and continuing the fight for the legitimate and inalienable rights of the Kashmiri people. It believes that changing geo-political realities do not change reference points.
It is the former space that needs to be defeated, because each time Kashmir is engulfed by protests, the first group comes out with wads of cash, and waves it in front of the people. It feeds on the fear in the hearts of Kashmiris, and has made a profession out of it. Each time a soldier’s ‘misfire’ kills a boy, the same group offers ‘deepest condolences’ and ‘reacts with anger,’ besides offering a government job to the nearest of kin.
This trend has to be defeated. Kashmir cannot allow itself to be governed by this group anymore.
That this trend can be defeated has been exemplified by Abdul Rashid Sheikh, or Er Rasheed, the MLA from Langate. He was the actual pioneer of the ‘no security, no red-beacon, easy approachability,’ attitude, for which few people give him credit. It may not have had much impact, but he did call on India to ‘hold a plebiscite,’ when he was in the Assembly. He has consistently called for demilitarisation, accountability of the police and politicians, and the fight for the return of the land under occupation of the Forces. He remains the only MLA to be arrested and locked up in the aftermath of the Afzal Guru hanging. Whether he will be re-elected is a far-off question, but he has shown that an honest, upright, and un-sold Kashmiri politician can do a lot of damage.
Dr Raja’s appears to be an attempt to do the same, albeit differently.
So all I can say is this: First, do not vote. Second, if you are compelled to vote because you think your grave will be thorny and filled with red-hot stones, then vote. Third, if you must vote, vote for someone who does not belong to such a grave.