Elections in Jammu and Kashmir, more than anything else, have almost always proved to be a complex exercise in deception. Reasons, or should we say alibis, for having a ‘strong’ local government in place can make an inexhaustible list the unionist political groups in Kashmir have traditionally drawn from to derive power for themselves. But the last state election held in 2014 was special for an unusual reason as it came weeks after a devastating flood of biblical proportions. When people were called out to vote in a new government, the destruction wrought by the flood – 300 dead and infrastructure worth Rs 100,000 crore lost – had left them dazed to the extent that it was hard for most to begin imagining means for reconstructing their lives and livelihoods. The People’s Democratic Party, in opposition then, seeing the National Conference-led government all but drowned, couldn’t hide its happiness at the flood having bolstered its chances to assume power. The devastated people needed to bring in a new and capable government for an early reconstruction and rehabilitation process to begin, the PDP’s electoral strategists trumpeted.
Surprised at the not so ‘decisive’ mandate the weakened and ever more vulnerable people of Kashmir delivered for the PDP, it took the party only a few weeks to turn the tables on itself and enter into coalition with a political force, the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose advancing ferocity had also been used to push the pervading public perception of vulnerability to a higher level ahead of the elections. This political convenience was sold as necessary for ensuring relief and reconstruction funds. Of course that process is far from having meaningfully begun.
What does this state of affairs reveal and teach? Many things. First, New Delhi’s callous refusal to allow international aid for Kashmir has transformed the people, as much as the government that is supposed to represent them, into a begging population – more vulnerable. Then, the Government of India denying monitory support to the state government, perhaps out of fear of letting it become an agent of power in local public perception and thus too big for its boots. The matrix then manufactures among the Kashmiri people a more acute sense of dependence on the government in New Delhi that doesn’t represent them except for claiming to win their referendum every six years.
All this should point the people of Kashmir on a path to assess and begin to think how to harness their own resources to decrease dependence on the government and the direction the local economy should take. It may seem an uphill task, but possible it nevertheless must be.