By Haroon Lone & Rouf Dar
Elections and Plebiscite
The thermometer in recent elections shows the boiling point among the Kashmiris, knowing themselves as well as the Indian state as to where the people stand. The objective of political participation in the Indian state, through elections is that it allows the Indian state to preserve its independence, to count its forces. Why would Kashmiris participate in a ‘system’ whose sovereignty over the territory they don’t recognise in the first place? But that may be absolutely irrelevant.
The question is, can Kashmiris use bourgeois cum rigged Indian democracy and the bourgeois state to achieve a peaceful transition to freedom? Luckily the answer is no. The ultimate intention of a phrase like ‘election’ in Kashmir is to dupe the people. Change comes from power and power comes from the people. The recent voter turnout of 7 and 2 percent reflect reformation. This change hasn’t come from mundane pro-India political parties or people associated with them, but is a result of particular struggles for social and political; which is freedom.
Elections in a colony like Kashmir are an enactment to choose from among colonial foot soldiers and Indian collaborators. To the collective apathy of Kashmiris, India holds elections to enable us to decide who gets to kill us for the next few years. The coercive of local people for this unscrupulous job, which is devoid of any dignity and humanity, has been a fact ever since Indian state dropped its jackboot on our soil. Election serves only purpose in Kashmir which is to keep turning people into ballast in the service of the empire.
The ‘first-past-the-first-post’ (FPTP) system of representation, one of the colonial legacies inherited by India from the British, ensures that even a meager turnout is portrayed as Kashmir’s will to integrate with India. Some would ask people to participate in elections for development purposes while simultaneously resisting the status quo which is absurd given that any such participation would tantamount to acceptance of India, ist claims and sovereignty over Kashmir.
Karl Marx famously said that, “the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” Indian state in that way subverts the revolution in letting the people choose lesser evils (according to that timeframe). In Kashmir, elections are used by the Indian establishment to prevent the the territory secede in case a free and fair referendum were held anytime. This is a reality not new. It has nothing to do with the armed insurgency of 1990s or the mass protests since 2008.
The history of Indian belief in a possible secession of Kashmir dates back to the days when a dubious accession and forcible seizure of Srinagar handed this land over to India. India had promised a plebiscite counting on the favorable position of Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference, but soon witnessed a political rift in the Kashmir valley. An intelligence report in 1949 explained to the Indian State that it was like “midsummer madness to think that we can win the plebiscite”. Sardar Patel soon followed with his agreement with Nehru that “…..in such circumstances a plebiscite is unreal”.
Elections in UNO
Apart from the numerous resolutions concerning the Kashmir dispute, one of the resolutions passed on 30th March 1951 — when the first elections were held for the Constituent Assembly in Jammu & Kashmir, wherein less than 5 percent of the nominal electorate cast a ballot, and National Conference won all the 75 seats — denounced the imminent act of drafting a constitution for the state.
Again, on 24th January 1957, another resolution was passed against the adoption of the constitution while re-emphasising demilitarisation and holding of plebiscite.
A customary overview of the section of Kashmiris who vote would never give a slightest indication that their voting is an acceptance of accession to India. Had it been the case, the involvement of masses in the armed insurgency or massive protests witnessed in the Valley since 2008 would have to be ignored. Both cannot be true at the same time and contradict each other.
Initially, coercion formed the basic external stimulation for people to vote. Hence, the history of Indian forces dragging Kashmiri people to polling booths is self-explanatory. A history of the forces checking inked fingers of people after elections, and those who had not voted would be at the receiving end, describes the legitimacy of elections in Kashmir and thereafter its portrayal as a signifier of integration with India.
Not that the coercion has disappeared. People are still being forced into political participation irrespective of their will, but the coercion has changed form with the overcoming of fear by the masses and their involvement in resistance activities. The masses have assumed a powerful leverage vis-a-vis the Indian State, and coupled with their political and comprehensive use of information technology India can no more hide its wrongdoings in Kashmir.
The political reasoning behind those who vote willfully has to be understood as well. Nowhere has any Kashmiri voted for the resolution of Kashmir dispute. No Kashmiri has ever confessed this because, in real terms, this lies outside the domain of pro-Indian political parties in Kashmir who are mere cogs in the occupational machinery. They become “use and throw” material for the Indian State which rates and rewards them according to longevity of their worth for statist purposes.
Some generalisations can be made about the voting behavior. One, people vote for roti, kapda, makaan and bijli, sadak, pani. Two, people are psychologically prepared to vote, because if they don’t, they shall have something to lose. The second point is aptly demonstrated in the fact that when forces go on an arrest spree, to free up their children families have to submit before the forces. This takes the shape of extortion, collaboration and also blackmailing them into the voting process.
The credibility of pro-India politicians
The local managers and their political vending have worked to consolidate Indian control in Kashmir. Their presence itself narrativises the working of a rigged democracy which is in tatters. Right from 1947 their existence has been used to propagate “everything is fine in Kashmir” propaganda. The initial terms of accession which granted India powers over three domains viz; defense, foreign policy and communication were constantly abused towards a fully-fledged integration of Kashmir with the Indian Union. Autonomy which the current National Conference preaches as its core belief was eroded with the help of their own conscientious gullibility.
During their campaigning for elections these politicians are often heard paying lip service to the basic political dispute reducing it to mere statements. Ideas like self-rule, autonomy, achievable nationhood etc. comprise attempts at hogwashing to divert attention from the brutal occupation. Their campaigning, therefore, is restricted to the provision of basic amenities to people and that is their primary profession. They fail even in this objective as well because the local resources have gradually been usurped by the Indian State. The Indian state’s hydropower giant, the NHPC is a case in point.
At every village these politicians visit during elections, their speeches revolve around the lack of this or that civic facility in the village. They leave with promises of working for the “development” of localities. Never has the solution of Kashmir dispute been their primary manifesto. And one can easily discern from this, their inability to correct the wrongs that have been perpetrated on Kashmir with their help.
A politician who may speak against the statist position is never taken too seriously and he/she never commands such authority to effect a change. Engineer Rashid, who also is no different than the average pro-India politician, regularly protests and shouts in the Assembly as if he was a people’s politician in the Valley, always looking like beaten up, harassed, subdued to the extent that his existence seems an anomaly. He also signifies what a politician who swears by the Indian Constitution can achieve — nothing.
Boycott to Disobedience
The 2017 elections saw an abysmally low voter turnout which was celebrated as the defeat of Indian claims over Kashmir. It was, frankly speaking, an honest reflection of Kashmiri politics that inclines towards freedom under all circumstances. It was also vindication of the fact that if India ceases to blackmail, coerce and utilise people’s shortcomings against them, there would always be transparency in resistance politics. As of now, anyone who is associated with the State in any manner does so because of certain obligations where necessities overrun choices.
April 2017 also registered a near-complete boycott of the farcical elections. More than a boycott, it was civil disobedience and a vivid rejection of mala fide institutionalisation of Indian democratic processes in Kashmir. People did not turn out to vote, yet 9 lives were snuffed. This is because people now are not content with passive resistance. Somehow, the strategy of “if you don’t harm us, we won’t react” has been replaced by a more active “we will fight until you leave our land” policy.
Consequently, polling booths which saw negligible voting were targeted. Electronic Voting Machines were destroyed. Prospective polling booths were burnt down. Clashes broke out in all polling areas forcing the State to defer another leg of by-polls by a month.
In response to the Doval doctrine, an iron fist approach to handling Kashmir, the people have refused to bow down. Every now and then, some part of the valley is engaged in battles between youth and forces turning the situation into a war. Even videos showing torture of youth by soldiers, released by government forces, have failed to deter the masses. The motive to induce fear has ended up in vain.
None of The Above or NOTA for short, also known as “against all” or a “scratch” vote is a new development in the Indian electoral politics and some Kashmiris are still clasping about its impact on balloting. It seems to be a protest vote but actually is not. A protest vote is one which is caste in an election to establish the caster’s disappointment with the choice of candidates in a constituency. This may overtly denote either a condition of immediate change in candidature in a constituency or by and large protest against the whole system. NOTA in actuality is a right to register a negative opinion and not a right to reject. This means that even if there are 99 NOTA votes out of a total of 100, and candidate F gets just one vote, F will still emerge as the winner.
But in the case of Kashmir exercising NOTA is more problematic than exercising a vote for any candidate in the system which was forcibly imposed in the first place. Because then NOTA would mean acknowledging Indian polity and believing its ability to correct a rigged democracy which doesn’t belong to Kashmiris. It would also mean people believing in a political system which has a history of manipulating the elections in Kashmir.
Kashmir’s resistance to Indian occupation is getting stronger by the day. A huge modification is being observed, an increased acceptance of violence, responding to state-sponsored violence with counter violence and an ossification of Azaadi narrative. The building blocks of Azaadi are being concretised with every sacrifice made on the streets and the subsequent will to follow a similar path. This reality, now being showcased even in international media on a regular basis, is the dawn of the final battle in the war for Azaadi.
It would be a gaffe to conclude from this that all we need to do is fracture the party system and get the right people, with better propositions and better politics. Neither of the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir, however much they fulminate against each other, can threaten the unfair system. Their interests, though they may diverge by a matter of degrees, are the same when it comes to propagandising and protecting the interests of the Indian state.
The Jammu and Kashmir state government, when elected is not a neutral body that simply constructs roads, put up bridges and repairs water mains. It works to uphold the Indian state, its projects, institutions and spending — not to mention who gets what and how much – and in the interest of their own survival, no matter if in power or not.
So, elections may be an exceptional channel to augment the message, organise and give shape to our movement that ripens outside the electoral sphere. Our freedom cannot be legislated into existence with the electoral process of Indian state. There is a revolutionary struggle that moves far beyond the limits of India’s rigged democracy in Kashmir.
—The writers of this article are pursuing their Masters in Political Science from University of Kashmir. Opinions expressed here are their own.