Should I vote, or should I not? A nagging question. Through paid advertisements in local newspapers, the government urges me to wake up and vote as that would solve all my problems. The dissidents, on the other hand, tell me to stay away from polling booths. What shall I do? I decided to look into the history of Kashmir to have a better understanding of the issue.
I am told that an elected government would improve the standard of education, create new avenues for employment, protect the environment, restore the supremacy of the judiciary and also provide a clean administration. But history disproves these claims. We are told that successive ‘democratic’ governments persuaded people to seek education.
Yes, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah founded the University of Jammu and Kashmir at Hazratbal. A few colleges were also set up during Bakhshi’s regime. But did it make education popular? Jammu and Kashmir is still far behind most states in India so far as literacy rate is concerned. What did the elected governments, therefore, do? After signing the Indira-Abdullah Accord, the Sher-e-Kashmir banned schools run by the Jama’t-e-Islami. More than fifty thousand students suffered. Many of them had to abandon studies as no ‘secular’ school was ready to admit them.
On the contrary, Maharaja Hari Singh had made education compulsory in the early 30s. Parents were forced to send children to school, or face consequences.
So far as the supremacy of the judiciary is concerned, the Maharaja proved more scrupulous than the state’s ‘elected’ rulers. In the early 40s, Maharani Tara Devi’s driver was booked for a minor traffic offence. The Maharani wrote a letter to the judge concerned, requesting him to deal with her driver leniently. The learned judge informed the Maharaja who scolded the Maharani and tendered an apology to the judicial officer.
But when the Sher-e-Kashmir assumed power, a halqa president of the National Conference in the Budgam district wrote a note to a High Court judge urging him not to hear a second appeal. The Justice informed Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah about the letter. According to noted lawyer, columnist and author GN Gauhar, the Sher-e-Kashmir replied: “We are in a state of emergency. Do as you have been told, or quit.” The learned Justice resigned in protest. This is how the process of eroding the supremacy of the judiciary was initiated.
Undermining the judiciary is common today. A police officer decides whether or not a court order seeking the release of a political prisoner should be honoured. The home department created history in July 2000 by issuing a written order urging jail superintendents not to honour court orders releasing political prisoners. Though the order was ‘withdrawn’ after fifteen days when lawyers registered strong protest, it continues to be followed in letter as well as in spirit. Early this year, the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Budgam, while hearing the Jalil Andrabi case, observed: ‘The people are justified in casting aspersions on the judiciary.’
There is no denying the fact that the Maharaja ordered people to be arrested, but he gave them a fair trial. The Maharaja had the vein to cancel the exile orders of Said-ud-Din Shawl and his associate who had been banished in 1924. Elected rulers, on the other hand, resorted to undemocratic methods to silence dissent. Thousands of activists were exiled during the Sher-e-Kashmirs and Bakhshi regimes. A mere police officer had the authority to issue such orders.
During the Maharaja’s ‘autocratic’ rule, nobody was subjected to enforced disappearances, nobody was killed after arrest and nobody was eliminated in fake encounters. But in democratic rule more than eight thousand people vanished without trace after being picked up by one “security” agency or the other, and custodial killings became the order of the day.
‘Elected’ rulers also extended the Defence of India Rules (DIR) to the state. Thousands of activists were detained for years together without trial under these rules. Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah framed the infamous Public Safety Act (PSA) 1978. Much has been said and written on this draconian legislation. No further explanation, therefore, is needed here.
The process did not stop here. In 1984, Ghulam Muhammad Shah dethroned Dr Farooq Abdullah with New Delhi’s help, and extended another draconian legislation, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA, to the state.
Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was eroded slowly and silently. Way back in 1959, Article 238 which contained the heart and soul of Article 370, was omitted from the Indian constitution. In absence of Article 238, Article 370 has no meaning. Soon afterwards, the permit system was also abolished. Today politicians talk about the restoration of autonomy. How can people swallow such a pill?
In 1996, when Dr Farooq assumed power for the third time, he wasted no time and formed the ruthless Special Operations Group (SOG) which wreaked havoc in the entire state. Shortly afterwards, he brought in the POTO (Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance) when it was still an ordinance. Jammu and Kashmir thus became the first state to invoke the provisions of the draconian law.
Mufti Muhammad Sayed and Ghulam Nabi Azad did the maximum damage to the unity and harmony of the state – so much so that division on communal lines seems quite imminent. Only a miracle can hold it together now.
Instead of creating new avenues of employment, successive democratic governments strangulated the state’s public sector. Most corporations are ailing today. The prestigious State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC) is on the verge of collapse. The Agro Industries Development Corporation is on the death bed. The Cheshma Shahi milk plant is already died. Other corporations have a similar story to tell. A study conducted by a university student reveals that the corporations failed because authorities got their party workers, relatives and friends adjusted in them without taking in to consideration their capacity.
I am also promised better roads. By now it has become clear that the elected governments are not capable of making good roads. The state got the best roads during Jagmohan’s ‘undemocratic’ rule. Roads constructed during his regime still exist.
Elected rulers have confined environmental preservation to the Dal Lake. In the name of saving the Dal, public funds are being looted like anything. The results are obvious. The Dal is dying fast, and so are the forests. A retired tourism officer, preferring anonymity, showed me some rare documents revealing how deeply the Maharaja was concerned about the environment. Forests were not plundered during his regime, the Dal had not lost its purity, and the Wular had not shrunk so alarmingly.
I am also told that elections would lead to the resolution of the Kashmir conflict. How? Politicians alone know. Nobody must oppose a democratic exercise for the sake of it. But the Government of India, the Government of Pakistan and the international community have time and again made clear that elections in Indian-administered-Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-administered-Jammu and Kashmir would have no bearing on the status of the conflict. Elections have not been able to solve the problem for six decades. How can they do so now when equations have changed the world over?
The state was better off during ‘autocratic’ and undemocratic rule. Why should I, therefore, vote? Can anybody convince me?
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