Kashmir Elections – A breach of promise!

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For the past 54 years, India has been deceiving the world over by staging numerous dramas and engineering abundant facts, the recent State Elections of Sept-Oct 2002 being one of them.

India held these farcical elections in four long phases. The first phase of polls was held on September 16 in Baramulla, Kupwara, Kargil, Leh, Poonch and Rajouri, followed by the second on the September 24 in Budgam and Srinagar. While the third phase was slated on October 1 in Anantnag, Kathua, Pulwama and Udhampur, the fourth and last was held on October 8 in Doda.

It must be recalled that in 1996, the International media concluded that in the Indian Occupied Kashmir State Assembly elections the voter turnout was less than 10% while the Indian Government claimed 58%. Keeping this ratio in view, Indian claim of 44% voter’s turnout actually is less than 8% and that too despite coercion.

For the first time in over 20 years, the dynasty and rule of National Conference has been toppled. From a two-thirds majority of 57 seats in the 87-seat House in 1996, the National Conference scraped through only 28. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Peoples Democratic Party emerged as a key political force with 16 seats while the Congress party, led by Ghulam Nabi Azad, tripled its strength from seven to 20.

Much humiliation was added to National Conference by the defeat of (NC) President and Chief Ministerial candidate Omar Abdullah as well as his uncle, the Industries minister Mustafa Kamal.

As luck would have it, the Congress and the PDP seem to craft an alliance with a clutch of Independents in the battered Valley.

However, this practice is not new to Kashmir. India has always made the Kashmiri leaders tune in to their orders. As the story began, Sheikh Abdullah-the first Kashmiri leader was replaced by Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad in 1953, Bakshi was dethroned in 1963, Shamasuddin was sent packing in 1964, Syed Mir Qasim was called upon to step aside in 1975 to make way for the Sheikh’s return. Later, Farooq Abdullah found himself on the roadside in 1984 only a few months after his stunning electoral victory in 1983, GM Shah was triumphed over in 1986 shortly before the 1987 assembly polls and, again, Farooq was felt ‘compelled’ to quit in 1989 after his ‘grand’ election success less than two years earlier.

Despite of all these come backs, the Indian government has always refused to accept the fact that it has been using force and coercion against the innocent Kashmiris to make them agree to its demands.

The claims were unleashed when an Indian newspaper The Indian Express (Delhi), during the 1999 elections (Sept 10, 1999) quoted Farooq Abdullah as saying, “We took the decision yesterday. I will make you come out of your homes and vote. Don’t think I will let you get away this time.

“Use the armed forces and drag the people out of their homes and vote at gunpoint,” Indian Express quoted Farooq Abdullah as ordering.

Notwithstanding the use of force and gun, valiant Kashmiris have always established that what they need is plebiscite and nothing less than that can satisfy them. Conversely, India is set on to engineered election dramas, which always prove to be futile.

Talking of the 2002 elections, all the four phases of the sham elections in the Indian Kashmir proved to be an abortive attempt, following the complete boycott of the polls by the people in all the constituencies. People in Indian occupied Kashmir, responding to boycott call of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), stayed at home in occupied Kashmir, reports by the international media confirmed.

Indian army remained in full swing herding people towards the polling booths and forcing them under the shadows of guns to cast their votes.

“Voters in Srinagar, in the heart of disputed Indian Kashmir, boycotted state elections, damaging India’s hopes of stifling a decade-long revolt,” said a leading British daily The Guardian.

“Most people in the Muslim-dominated city stayed at home after a strike was called by Kashmir’s main pro freedom group, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC).” “Whether we vote or not makes no difference. Too much injustice has been done,” a Srinagar resident was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

Focusing on Srinagar, the Capital City, British daily The Times said “Only a handful of voters emerged from their homes in defiance of a boycott by militants.”

“Turnout in percentage terms only just hit double figures by the time polling booths closed. Some officials blamed the low turnout on people’s fear of violence, but others said that there was little interest in voting in the strongly pro-separatist city,” said The Times.

AFP in its reports from Srinagar said polls closed in Indian held Kashmir after a day, which saw a near total boycott in Srinagar. A majority of voters in Srinagar district and adjacent Budgam observed a boycott of the polls called by Muslim pro-freedom groups, with most stations reporting only handfuls of voters.

Indian channel Star News said that no one was seen casting vote in polling stations in the district. Its correspondent Barkhadat was told by people in Ganderbal that they wanted freedom and not to vote for any party.

Same and sometimes worst was the case with other districts as well. Low voter turnouts and free polling staff was all being marked in most of the polling stations of the Sate.

Even the death toll has touched skies during the Indian claimed ‘peaceful elections’. AFP quoted Indian Police Chief Ashok Suri as saying, “830 Kashmiris are killed in Kashmir since elections announced.”

“Of the total, 370 were militants, around 50 were political activists — including two candidates — 150 were security force personnel and 260 were civilians. Suri said that some 500 civilians and 213 security force personnel had been injured in the past two months,” agency quoted Police Chief as saying.

The “Kashmir issue”-as it is known is not new. It dates back to 1947 é to the partition of India and Pakistan. In the past 54 years, India and Pakistan have fought three wars-two over control of Kashmir. The issue has been on the United Nations port since then though nothing has been done till date. The cease-fire, which gave 65 percent of Kashmir to India, was to be temporary. A plebiscite was supposed to follow, allowing the Kashmiris to decide their future. To date, there has been no plebiscite.

Kashmir is the only state in the Indian Union, which has the dubious ‘distinction’ of never having unseated an incumbent government through elections. Over half a dozen of the state governments have in fact been replaced, since the first elections held in 1951, but only through extra-democratic means.

.In the light of all the facts and the happenings, India as a democracy needs to travel with all the credentials of a democracy to Jammu and Kashmir and disengage its security forces from an unprofitable engagement with the unarmed and innocent civil society.

It is high time for India to agree to the fact that Kashmiris still want self-determination. The recent engineered State elections by India is no solution to the long-standing issue and the grant of internal autonomy no fulfillment of the promise. In fact-it is a breach of promise!

Mr. Ali S. Khan is Executive Director, Kashmiri Scandinavian Council (KSC) in Oslo, Norway.

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