Kashmir Elections 2002 – and Four Opinions
by Dr. Syed Nazir Gilani

The four phase elections - September 16, September 24, October 01 and October 08 are now over. Like any other truth about Jammu and Kashmir, the truth about these elections is fragmented according to the respective needs and positions of India and Pakistan and their respective influences in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad.

We have a simple choice of either turning into an ostrich and burrowing tunnels into the sands of delusion to cry foul or in our best interests clean the cobwebs of self-interest and analyse the process of elections.

Cloning is not available on a commercial scale in India that we could accuse India of cloning the likes of Kashmiri men and women who under the international gaze walked up to the polling stations to produce an aggregate of 41 % participation.

These were real men and women, who voted and voted with a special wisdom. US ambassador to India Mr. Robert Blackwill has certified these elections as “positive, credible, successful”. German ambassador in India on behalf of European Union also certified these elections as free and fair.

The American certification takes over and the two opinions in Pakistan and in Azad Kashmir become irrelevant. Out of the three A’s – Allah, Army and America – the last ‘A’ is omnipotent.

After 1977 elections these elections were by far the freer and fairer elections. National Conference has ruled the State for 35 years since 5 March 1948 and Congress for 11 years. It is for the first time that the common man and woman in Kashmir decided to distribute the choice of their expressed politics to bring in a multi-party coalition government in the political history of Kashmir.

It is the first time since 1947 that the State has a non-NC and non-Congress chief minister. The common man and woman is now convinced that if there is a free and fair vote, they have an ability to validate a representative or in-validate if he has remained on the wrong side of the people.

It is intriguing to note that, on this occasion, the outcome of the expressed opinion of common man and woman on the Indian side of Kashmir is far more credible and encouraging than the results of the elections on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. The people have put an end to NC and Congress long innings of politics. They have introduced a new era of competitive politics and the concept of a multi-party coalition based on a common minimum programme.

The result of the expressed political choice favoured the Congress but the local psychology played in favour of local political party {PDP} in her bid for the office of chief minister.

Unlike Muslim Conference in Azad Kashmir the PDP leadership in Srinagar did not flinch in her first claim to the scales of power - on the question of chief minister. MC in Azad Kashmir shrank to a political infirmity on the question of the office of the President.

The office of the President in Azad Kashmir was filled in a ‘super-man’ like style and the tall claims of political uprightness and fortitude of the local leadership proved nothing. PDP has prima facie set a good example and kept Mehbooba Mufti away from the government. The concentration of political greed and interest has been avoided.

Congress leadership, too, submitted to the local psychology and restrained itself from any temptation to scuttle the number of PDP to make up the magic number on its own. It may have been a difficult deed but surely not impossible for Congress.

It is also encouraging to note that the Indian civil society and establishment has realised after practising a ‘proxy politics’ for over 50/52 years that one proxy leads to the other. And that unless the common man and women is not empowered in Kashmir, their prized political class would be matched with another privatised political class from Islamabad.

A lot has been said about the present mandate as a ‘fractured’ mandate. But a close examination would reveal that it would be inappropriate to class a distribution of political choice as ‘fractured’. The people of Jammu and Kashmir have unseated the National Conference but have decided to keep it as a political choice. At the same time the voter has for the first time created a space for a competitive politics.

NC [28] has emerged as the large single political party. It has suffered a set back in elected numbers but has gained in votes. The use of a negative vote has been an advantage to other political opinions but NC has equally befitted from the APHC’s local boycott in and around Srinagar. If one goes by the proverb – “all is well that ends well”, then APHC boycott in Srinagar has been well for NC.

The return of Congress [20] as the second large party, PDP [16] as the third, Independents [13], JKNPP [4], BJP [1] CPI (M) – [1], BSP [1] and LAHDC – Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council [2] does augur well for a ‘corporate’ political culture in Jammu and Kashmir.

On the one hand the voters have economically distributed their expressed choice and on the other have set a new challenge for the political parties to co-exist on a basic minimum programme. The delay in cobbling together a coalition government – a first of its kind in Kashmir and the public pronouncements of anger on the haggling for scales of power further confirm that people have participated if not ‘freely’ [presence of threat and violence] but fairly in the elections.

It is a verdict for breaking from the past and moving forward in the right direction of a service to the people and to resolve the basic political problem. A numerical superiority favouring Congress as a choice for the office of Chief Minister has been balanced against a psychological environment poised in favour of PDP’s insistence. PDP is a 3-year-old rag-tag group, which has benefited from a negative vote and the Congress’s accommodating generosity. Congress withdrew 6 candidates in South Kashmir and bolstered the PDP’s chances.

People’s verdict at least given the general disarray has created a possibility of a coalition government and of a strong opposition. However, these elections do not as an exclusive settle the question of who can speak for the Kashmiris in negotiating their future with India and Pakistan.

While celebrating a mandate the new formation has to bear in mind and live up to a gap left over by a ‘low-poll’ and ‘no-poll’ segment scenario as well.

Non party experts of Kashmiri origin and Kashmiri leadership [individual and organisational] active at the international level shall have to play a leading role. Their non-attachment to the wide spread party interests, durable commitment pre dating 1990 and a high level of understanding of Kashmir complex is a lead advantage, which has to come into action.

Politics, in its broadest sense, is the activity through which people make, preserve and amend the general rules under which they live. It is inextricably linked to the phenomenon of conflict and co-operation.

Dialogues and Contestations of a society with the state are necessary to animate a people’s well being. And the site at which these encounters take place is always a civil society.

Political schools have to construct alternative modes of politics and give a convincing message that the state dictated political discourse is not the final word on political arrangements.

For the reanimation of civil society it is important that the men and women are able to take part in a freely expressed political choice. The endeavour to animate the civil society has to be gilted on the confidence that a self-conscious civil society necessarily involves democratization. Civil society is accessed invariably through political activism, which ensures state accountability and responsiveness. [To be continued]

The author is an advocate of Supreme Court and Secretary General of London based NGO JKCHR. The NGO is – in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.

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