State Assembly Elections 1951-2002 – An Analysis*

Election in the Indian-Held Jammu and Kashmir for the State Assembly are about to be held in September/October. Though nine such elections have been held from 1951 to 1996, the extraordinary feature of the forthcoming elections is that the Indian government wants to present them as a substitute to the plebiscite. This is why both the Indian and State governments are giving assurances about the impartiality and transparency of these elections. The Indian Prime Minister Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee has himself given such assurances repeatedly. To make the election process credible and acceptable to the international community, the Indian government is making all-out incessant efforts to persuade the APHC, as well as other groups struggling for freedom from Indian rule, to participate in these elections. In its efforts, India has the tacit support of American and British governments. American officials have been meeting the APHC leadership to plead for their participation in the elections.

The APHC, and other groups, have however ruled out the possibility of participation in the elections. Instead, the APHC has announced to launch a campaign for the boycott of elections. While the decision of the APHC has in a way made the elections a touch-stone: public participation in or boycott of the elections would reflect the real aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir; the real issue is to understand the Indian motives behind its moves.

Why India is bent upon holding elections? What importance should be accorded to them? Are the forthcoming elections really different from the past ones? And finally, what conclusions can be drawn from the experience of Kashmiris’ participation in the past elections? These are the questions that are central to the current situation, and an analysis of the obtaining conditions would be useful if it keeps them in view.

History of Elections in the IHK

The National Conference, which was responsible for running the affairs of the State under an emergency and interim system after the end of the Maharaja rule, demanded, through a resolution in October 1950, for the establishment of a constituent assembly to decide about the future of the State. In the light of this resolution, a Constituent Assembly was elected in September 1951. Since this situation was in conflict with the United Nation’s Resolution of 1948 and 1949, the government of Pakistan took the stance that India had pledged for a plebiscite under the UN auspices to decide the future disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and not for the Assembly or holding of elections.

Holding the elections for the Constituent Assembly as a violation of international agreements, the Pakistan government pleaded for the UN Security Council’s intervention. Responding to the stand and demand of the Pakistan government, India declared Pakistan’s apprehensions as baseless and its permanent representative in the Council Mr. Sir Benegal Rau assured on March 9, 1951 that:

My Government’s view is that, while the Constituent Assembly may, if it so desires, express an opinion on this question, it can take no decision on it. [2]

The same was assured many times by the Indian Prime Minister Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru. In one such assurances, he wrote to the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1954 that whatever might be the decision of the Assembly, ‘we’ would fulfill our international pledges. [4]

Another resolution by the UN Security Council in 1957 said:

Having heard statements from representatives of the Governments of India and Pakistan concerning the dispute over the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Reminding the Governments and authorities concerned of the principle embodied in its resolutions 47 (1948) of 21 April 1948, 51 (1948) of 3 June 1948, 80 (1950) of 14 March 1950, and 91 (1951) of 30 March 1951, and the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan resolutions of 13 August 1948, and 5 January 1949, that the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations;

Reaffirms the affirmation in its resolution 91 (1951) and declares that the convening of a Constituent Assembly as recommended by the General Council of the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference and any action that Assembly may have taken or might attempt to take to determine the future shape and affiliation of the entire State or any part thereof, or action by the parties concerned in support of any such action by the Assembly, would not constitute disposition of the State in accordance with the above principle. [6], in 1953, the subsequent elections were rigged to prevent his supporters from coming to power. Thus, 30 candidates of the National Conference (including the then Prime Minister Baskhshi Ghulam Muhammad, who was made the ruler of the State in place of Shaikh Abdullah) were elected unopposed in the elections of 1957; 10 others were declared unopposed winner when the nomination papers of their opponents were rejected. This is how 35 candidates of the ruling party from the Valley and 5 from Jammu won unopposed. Seeing the situation taking this turn, Shaikh Abdullah’s Plebiscite Front (his party at the time) boycotted the elections.

In the elections of 1962, the Conference’s 33 candidates (32 from the Valley and one from Jammu) won unopposed. These included the Prime Minister Baskhshi Ghulam Muhammad and his ministers Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq, Shams-ud-Din, and Mir Qasim (it is noteworthy that these three became Chief Ministers in the subsequent periods). The reality behind this unopposed victory was that the opponents in 20 out of the total 43 constituencies of the Valley were not allowed even to submit their papers, 8 were forced to withdraw their papers, while the papers of 4 (who had refused to budge under pressure) were rejected. The Plebiscite Front opted for a boycott of elections under these circumstances. These strong-arm tactics dealt a sever blow to the credibility of the elections, and to the extent that the then Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru himself said to Baskhshi Ghulam Muhammad:

It would strengthen your position much more if you lost a few seats to bona fide opponents. [8]

The National Conference took part in the elections of 1967 under the name of Congress. The Congress won on 60 out of 75 seats. In these elections too, 22 candidates were elected unopposed because the papers of the opponents had been rejected for one reason or another.

The situation was not any different in the elections of 1972 either. The Congress ‘retained’ its 2/3rd majority in these elections. The National Conference had opposed the Congress this time and was, therefore, not allowed to contest elections.

Shaikh Abdullah conducted elections for the State Assembly in 1977. Though the Indian government’s involvement in these elections was relatively less, the National Conference adopted a two-prong strategy for winning the elections: on the one hand, it harassed its opponents; on the other, it raised the slogan ‘Open the Srinagar-Rawalpindi Road’ to appeal to the sentiments of the people for freedom. The public sentiments for freedom and accession with Pakistan were thus exploited to garner maximum vote.

In the wake of Shaikh Abdullah’s death in 1982, there were extraordinary wave of sympathy with him. The National Conference benefited from them during its campaign in the elections of 1983, and his son Farooq Abdullah grabbed 47 seats with the support and backing of the Central government.

The Elections of 1987

The elections of 1987 were a turning point in the history and politics of the State. Under an agreement reached between the State’s Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, prior to the elections, the National Conference and the Congress jointly contested these elections. Keeping in view the bitter experience of the past, almost all the important political parties formed an election alliance with the name of Muslim United Front [10]

The renowned journalist Tavleen Singh wrote in her book Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors:

Overnight, Farooq was transformed from hero to traitor in the Kashmiri mind. People could not understand how a man who had been treated the way he had by Delhi, and especially by the Gandhi family, could now be crawling to them for accords and alliances.

He seems to have returned with a ‘go ahead’ to do whatever was required and then the government machinery, which in any case had been working openly in favor of the alliance was now geared up to play an even more active role. [12]

These elections eroded whatever was left of the Kashmiris’ hopes in the elections under the Indian auspices [14]

The Elections of 1996

Because of the extremely successful boycott of the Lok Sabha elections in 1989 and the ongoing and growing political and armed struggled for freedom, the Indian government could not hold State Assembly elections till 1996; though it tried many a time to do so. The Election Commission of India even toured the State but avoided holding of elections by terming the situation as unfavorable. Thus Jammu and Kashmir remained under Governor-rule from 1990 to 1996, with the Indian government seeking extension of Governor-rule from the Parliament after every six months.

The Indian government carried out a new experiment in the May 1996 Lok Sabha elections. It divided the State into four zones and employed the army to conduct elections in each of them on separate dates. The international media and all other sources declared these elections as fraud, but the Indian government considered this strategy quite feasible and went ahead with the decision to conduct even the State elections on the same pattern. To divide a small State into four zones for the purpose of elections was really a unique measure.

The decision of the Indian government provoked massive reaction against elections. The political and militant leadership of the freedom movement appealed for a total boycott of the elections, with the political leadership launching a vigorous campaign from the platform of APHC. The APHC took the stand that it would not participate in elections whose sole purpose was merely to run the local administration, since it calls for the solution of the Kashmir issue through plebiscite. The APHC leaders toured the width and breadth of the State and canvassed for the boycott of the elections; they went door-to-door and organized public rallies and large gatherings. The Indian government resorted to strong-arm tactics to curb this campaign and arrested the leaders. But the campaign aroused strong support for the boycott and the international community and media doubted the credibility of the elections and rejected their result. The success of the boycott campaign was evident from the fact that not only the general public but also the government employees boycotted these elections by refusing to carry out their duties during the elections.

The public sentiment against the elections was so overwhelming that a 3,600-member strong staff had to be brought in from India after the State’s employee’s refusal to be part of the election process. They were provided bullet-proof jacket and vehicles. All the polling stations of the Valley and Doda were declared highly sensitive, curfew was imposed prior to holding of elections in any of the four zones, and the polling was held in the presence of the army. [16]

The Washington Post observed:

Residents said government soldiers had forced them to participate in the election. éVillagers in Mazburgh, 27 miles west of the state capital Srinagar, said soldiers waving rifles entered their homes and threatened to assault them unless they voted. [18]

The Washington Post commented:

Security forces were seen pressuring people to the polls, a tactic they employed during elections for the federal parliament in May. Reporters saw squads of army and paramilitary officers going from house to house in some localities. [20]

Background to the Forthcoming State Elections

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, a global coalition against terrorism was formed and a peculiar psychological atmosphere was created against the armed and militant freedom movements. India tried to bracket the Kashmir’s resistance movement with terrorism, so that it could be crushed with the American and Western support. It also used the attack on the Indian Parliament on Dec. 13, 2001 to station its troops along its borders with Pakistan in large numbers. This created an atmosphere of war in the region. Though India could not accomplish its plan, it did succeed in garnering international community’s support to exert pressure on Pakistan to stop its support to Mujahideen in Kashmir. In the face of this pressure, and the assurances given to him, the Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf took some measures and announced that Pakistan was not providing arms to Mujahideen, nor any infiltration was taking place from the Pakistani side of Kashmir. After this clear position, the international community was rightly expecting India to take positive reciprocal steps for reduction in tension. But, rather than coming up to the expectations, India sought to diffuse the pressure by announcing to hold elections in the State. Now, it is trying to somehow arrange people’s participation in the elections and interpret it as a change of ground realities: that Kashmiris are now willing to live under the Indian rule. In fact, India was under pressure to do something (in the wake of the international community’s interest, troops’ gathering along the borders, and Pakistan’s drawing back its support for Mujahideen) to plea before the world that the situation in the State was ameliorating and coming to normal.

In such a background, the September/October State elections have quite naturally become a test case for all the stakeholders. In a bid to restore credibility to elections, the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee gave personal assurance of their being free and fair. India thinks that if it manages to hold these elections successfully with a reasonable turn-out and a sense of their being free and fair, against the reputation of the past, then it would boost the Indian position on the Kashmir issue; while the APHC would be reduced to a non-representative and minority group.

A Review of the Indian Efforts

An important element of the Indian strategy has been to persuade the Kashmiri, especially the APHC, leaders for participation in elections. The process of direct or indirect talks with the APHC and other groups has been continuing for the last one year. The Indian government has been appointing special emissaries é K.C. Pant, Wajahat Habibullah, and A.S. Daulat é for the purpose. Now, a Kashmir Committee is active for the same purpose under the leadership of Ram Jeth Malani.

The first Indian priority is to secure the APHC and other groups’ participation in the elections. The second priority is that they desist from boycotting the elections, even if they don’t participate in them, for only this could confer credibility to the election process and pave way for their acceptance at the international level. For this reason, to stop the Kashmiri leadership from launching a boycott campaign, arrests took place in large numbers, including that of the main APHC leaders é Syed Ali Gilani, Yasin Malik, and Shaikh Abdul Aziz.

During the last two years, the Indian government had somewhat successfully created an impression as if Shabbir Ahmad Shah of the Democratic Freedom Party and Abdul Ghani Lone of the Peoples Conference, and, to an extent, Mir Waiz Umar Farooq of the Kashmir Action Committee, were willing to participate in the State elections. Along with the aim of restoring credibility to the election process, Indian wanted to create rift in the APHC. Yet, the fact is that Abdul Ghani Lone had said in his interviews and speeches just a few days before his murder that he was all for boycotting the elections. Shabbir Shah too has unequivocally refused to take part in the elections. Similarly, Umar Farooq has clearly said that he adheres to the APHC decision of 1996 with regard to participation in elections. The new President of the Peoples Conference Sajjad Lone has, likewise, ruled out the possibility of taking part in elections.

It was also got published in the Indian media that a former commander of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen Abdul Majid Dar was organizing a new Third Front that would participate in the elections. But, neither Mr. Dar showed any willingness for participation in the elections, nor could the much-vaunted Front come into being. Rejecting the validity of the elections and explaining the rationale for the boycott, the APHC Chairman Professor Abdul Ghani Bhatt said that the APHC would take part in the elections only if they were for deciding the future of the State and for the solution of the issue, that it would not take part in them if they were held under the Indian Constitution just to run the local administration.

The International Community and its Concerns

While the international community has taken greater interest in the issue during the recent times, it is unfortunate that it approaches the issue not from the perspective of principle, law, the UN Charter and Resolutions, but from the angle of elections and the people’s participation or lack of it in what it conveniently believes to be the democratic process. This sort of logic came to fore in 1996 for the first time. The US ambassador in Delhi at the time Frank Weizener made all-out effort to persuade the APHC for participation in elections. He even came to Pakistan, held meetings with senior officials, and addressed military officers at the Command and Staff College, Quetta, and told that his viewpoint was that Kashmiris should get their status and position established by taking part in the elections and playing a role in the peace process. The then Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Ms. Rabin Rafael expressed the same views during her meeting with the then AJK Prime Minister Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan in Islamabad. Despite such an all-out American backing and canvassing for the elections, the APHC not only did not take part in them but staged an overwhelming boycotted.

The international community is repeating the same exercise now. The APHC and other groups are cajoled into taking part in elections. The US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on July 27 in Islamabad that the State election could be a step to move forward. He emphasized for the appointment of international observers to monitor the conduct of elections. During his visit to Islamabad on July 9, the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had also supported holding of elections. In continuation of the American efforts to secure APHC’s participation in election, a senior US official Lisa Curtis, accompanied by two other senior officials, held meetings with the APHC and other groups’ delegations in the US Mission in Delhi and held that the elections provide them an opportunity to march towards peace. The APHC has, however, refused to budge under pressure. Even the elements outside the APHC like the Democratic Freedom Party of Shabbir Shah have refused to take part in any such elections that are not meant for progress towards the solution of the Kashmir issue.

The Challenge before the APHC

The APHC has taken a stand, and has made it known to all. The foremost challenge before it was to maintain unity among its ranks and how to deal with the dodgy issue of participation in the elections in the face of Indian stratagem and the international community’s pressure. The international community, and America in particular, insist that it should desist from launching a campaign for boycott even if it keeps away from the elections. The APHC was told that it would lose the West’s sympathies if it went ahead with its plans for the boycott. However, the APHC has so far defended and presented its case quite successfully.

The second major challenge before the APHC is that the Indian military and para-military forces would bully the populace into voting against their wishes for the boycott. To meet this challenge, it would have to convince the world to check the Indian government from staging ‘coercive participation’ because not casting the vote is as much a political right as casting the vote. This right should be accepted, especially when the votes are not cast for the solution of the issue; rather they would help deflect the attention away from it. The attention of media and human-rights organizations would have to be drawn towards their role in exposing the reality-behind-the-scene to the world.

The obtaining situation on the ground is that though India is bent upon holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir, it sees no prospects for the success of its plans. The ground realities are not in its favor after the APHC decision of boycott. The views of Indian intellectuals shed ample light on the situation.

In the second week of August, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Delhi, conducted a study on the likely situation in Jammu and Kashmir after the elections. It says that 84 percent and 74 percent people would not take part in the elections for reasons of bad governance and for fear of rigging. [22]

The well-known Indian journalist Kuldip Nayyer wrote that New Delhi was giving assurances of merely free and fair elections. Such a promise was reliable till the elections of 1987, the last elections when the Kashmiris wanted to know whether New Delhi and Srinagar had learned any lessons from the past? Would they really hold free elections? [24]

47

47

38

59

é

é

é

61

57

11

26

28

7

é

é

é

4

3

é

é

é

é

é

5

3

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

13

é

é

5

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

2

8

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

4

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

1

é

é

é

é

é

é

5

1

é

é

é

é

1

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

1

é

é

é

1

2

2

9

4

1

4

2

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

1

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

1

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

é

4

75

75

75 [26]

76

76

76

87