The much-debated parliamentary elections in Kashmir are over but the debate about whether it spells prudence to boycott these electoral politics or to participate in them will yet continue for a long time. There are many people who have come out in support of the latter option. The majority of these – especially those who have chosen to actively join mainstream politics – have been putting forth all sorts of arguments in favour of participation in elections. The fact remains that those who have joined mainstream politics have done so to get a bite of the power, prestige and even money associated with politics. The motives of this group, which includes some ‘intellectuals’ who have decided to go for a share of the pie, are too evident to be a matter of debate. And yet there are people who, even though they are not active participants in politics and do not have any axe to grind, find themselves supporting this whole exercise. These people unwittingly become proponents of an idea that has been carefully implanted by the former or rather those for whom they act as proxies. Even a cursory study of history however provides a counter to the arguments of both these groups.
The history of elections in Kashmir – which reads like a history of perfidy – started in 1950 when the party which represented the aspirations of the Kashmiri people decided to form a constituent assembly. Prior to this, India and Pakistan were still battling out the issue of the state’s future in the UN. India too, at least ostensibly, was supporting the right of referendum for the Kashmiri population till that time. Elections followed a year later and the National Conference won all the 75 seats in this election which was largely manipulated as is widely accepted. The ‘victory’ was offered as a prize to this party for paving the way for diluting the Kashmiri stand on referendum, but in reality it was just a bait to lure the man whom the masses had accepted as their leader and in whom they had reposed their trust. This became evident just a couple of years later. The Sheikh ego, which had been fed by the devotion of the masses over the years, had probably become even more inflated when New Delhi gave him free rein during the elections. Of course, New Delhi followed this up by a series of events aimed at whittling down this monolithic leader and when he failed to see the writing on the wall and started playing spoilsport in the game that India had started he was unceremoniously deposed. Once he was removed from the scene his party members and former collaborators completed the process that he had started and ratified Kashmir’s accession to India thereby giving the proposed referendum an effective burial.
The process which the Sheikh had started by participating in elections became a self-propagating one as New Delhi kept changing the players as and when it found it convenient. A new chapter had begun in the history of oppression of the Kashmiri masses and it was the very first election that initiated it. The elections that followed were equally manipulated and with every change Kashmir kept losing its autonomous character. The Sheikh opened a new front of resistance – the Plebiscite Front – but ultimately capitulated once again. In an eerie similarity to the present scenario where some separatist leaders have increasingly been talking of accepting ‘changed realities,’ the Plebiscite Front did just that. It sought to end its ‘political wilderness’ – mark how aptly the word apparently fits the present scenario of separatist politics in Kashmir – by choosing to participate in Municipal elections. The arguments must have been quite similar to the bijli, pani, sadak stuff that is being bandied about today. Having tested the waters with this ‘realistic’ attitude the Plebiscite Front pretty soon got fully immersed and submerged into the murky waters of mainstream politics. The saga doesn’t end here. Even those who are seen as hardliners today, the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Syed Salahuddin ventured briefly into the ‘democratic’ institution of electoral politics accepting the unctuous invitation of putting across their view point in a ‘decent’ and ‘civilized’ manner. It didn’t take them long, however, to recognize the farce for what it was.
In spite of these evident facts which belong not to some remote pre-historic period but span just over half a century, there are people who fool themselves and try to fool others too into believing that elections hold the key to peace and resolution. It is clearly evident that even those who say that elections may not provide a resolution of the Kashmir issue but nevertheless will aid in sorting out other issues related to administrative affairs and all that are clearly in the wrong. The initial brush of the PF with Municipal elections is a clear-cut historical instance of what comes next.