Riyaz brings a reality check to the election process and finds Kashmiris are no closer to being masters of their destiny now than they were in the past
(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 36, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)
Winners: India, Pakistan
How did New Delhi manage a ‘successful’ election in Kashmir? Efforts to answer this question have lead astray many a student of Kashmir conflict. Much of the newspaper space and transmission chunks in TV channels have been consumed to answer why the voters did not honor the boycott call from separatist forces? But we are yet to hear the answer to the question how New Delhi managed a ‘successful’ election in an unfavorable backdrop. The reason is simple. The question was never asked! This is a feeble attempt to point toward some possible answers, if not a perfect reply.
We the people
Amidst this loud ‘expert talk’, we had edicts served against our ‘social character’; we earned the funny epithets such as Soda Water and Ragda nation; the queues outside polling booths left most of us fuming, frustrated. However we tried to comfort ourselves by ascribing the failure to Hurriyat Conference leadership; we also tried to hide behind thin veneers of compulsion for Roti, Kapda, Makaan; we shouted at the top of our lungs that the voter was as good an advocate of Azadi as the one who pelted stones. A whole discourse was tossed up and we heard voices explaining the distinction between the movement for Azadi and the needs for local governance. But then some of us grew even more upset to know these elections had made Caliban out of a common Kashmiri – appearing in half-fish-half-human form, Caliban is one of the wildest and most abstracted of all Shakespeare’s characters in his famous play, The Tempest. We fought between ourselves over interpretations of our newly evolved ‘character’. Now we thought, “we are human”, now we thought, “NO”, “we are actually fish”. Over further examination, the observers were found lost, caught in shock and awe.
A journalist friend recently said he had a call from Karan Thapar, India’s Television celebrity, who had been anticipating humiliation to New Delhi in the elections considering a massive peaceful movement against the Indian presence in J&K. “Kashmiris are Gods because only God can be unpredictable,” Thapar had told him.
Poor Kashmiri! In 1947 he was pitted against the raiders and coerced to shout Humla Awar Hoshiyar, hum Kashmiri hai tayaar; in 1965 he was tortured for harboring the same Humla aawar and in 1989 that Humla aawar had turned his supporter but not without a cost: All Kashmiris began to be perceived as Humla aawars against India.
Then followed another phase of social engineering in which Kashmiris were segregated in ‘good’ and ‘bad’ columns. Kuka Parray represented the ‘good Kashmiri’ and Syed Salahuddin represented the ‘bad Kashmiri’. As the militancy waned a different phase followed with the nerve-wracking terrorist strike against US on September 11, 2001. The most clichéd 9/11 syndrome ensued in separatist politics here. In this phase ‘moderate’ replaced the ‘good’ and ‘hardliner’ replaced the ‘bad’ of yesteryears. At the turn of the millennium , the lines blurred between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, between ‘moderate’ and ‘hardliner’ and interestingly between the ‘pro-India’ and ‘anti-India’ camps. Indo-Pak tension eased and Kashmir question sneaked into pro-India camp, coloring its manifesto with lofty promise of Kashmir resolution. Espousers of India’s National Security Agenda were heard mourning over human rights violation with loudmouthed protests over the ‘exploitation of our natural resources by India and Pakistan’.
The Ragda-voting mix
According to ‘conflict scientists’ (We will soon hear this term) conflicts, especially with ethnic or religious background, are never resolved, they get transformed. We too have been undergoing various phases of ‘conflict transformation’. From November 17 to December 24, 2008, brisk polling, supposedly in favor of Indian rule in Kashmir, was witnessed close on the heels of a most vibrant yet non-violent revolt against Indian rule. Does the conflict transform so quickly? No.
Street campaigns in July-August 2008 were, actually, the manifestation of the uncured problem while as the voter-participation was culmination of the latest phase of a gradual conflict transformation that had taken root way back in 2001. We are surprised because Mirwaiz-Sajjad-Malik trio failed to discern the change, or refused to own it. Instead they competed with each other to replace Geelani.
When seen in the confined context of the recent Chalo movement, the voter-turnout in these elections would entail wrong conclusions of which the ones against the popular character sound painful and bespeak our ineptitude for understanding even our own situation. Why did we forget thousands of people attending funeral of a militant commander in Pulwama days after they had turned out for voting in throes.
The question how New Delhi managed a successful election is much more important than why Kashmiris voted on the sidelines of a resurrected separatist campaign with completely non-violent characteristics. And an accurate answer lies in the external dimension that comprises Pakistan and the Pakistan-backed militant groups. Militants remained conspicuously indifferent to the polling process in Kashmir. Compared to an estimated 850 killings including 75 political workers during the elections in 2002 the exercise in 2008 witnessed almost zero-reaction from militants with no political killings though the number of candidates in these elections was almost threefold.
Going by New Delhi’s assertions that Pakistan had been sponsoring militancy in Kashmir, the militant indifference toward polls appears more of an Indo-Pak deal and less of a coincidence. After all why was Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh cocksure that the situation for holding elections was conducive even as the row over the shrine land and the subsequent freedom movement was far from being over.
If anything, the Indo-Pak peace process that started on January 6, 2004 with Vajpayee-Musharraf pact has transformed the pro-India politics in Kashmir. The pact triggered a massive process that was aimed at facilitating the consolidation of ‘unipolar’ politics in Kashmir. The former home minister of India and a devout Indian, Mufti Muhammad Syed emerged as the stronger voice of nationalism. Pakistan opened up its political space for both National Conference and Mufti’s PDP. Omar Abdullah visited Pakistan twice, broke bread with Musharraf. Mahbooba Mufti too crossed the line; she enjoyed the state protocol in the form of a joint press conference with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. During Musharraf regime even second and middle-rung politicians including Abdul Rahim Rather, Moulana Iftikhar Ansari, Nizamudin Bhat, M Y Tarigami and a whole lot of ‘peace activists’ from India visited Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. Mufti was so much emboldened by the Pakistani gesture that he erected the posters of Parvez Musharraf alongside Manmohan Singh in Srinagar.
All this was happening at a time when the American war in Afghanistan was going awry, and Pakistan was getting entangled with its own set of ‘cross-border’ incursions via Kabul. Militancy in Kashmir was increasingly getting ‘orphaned’ as Musharraf chose to close tap on the ‘bleed India’ policy of Bhutto’s making. Combined together, these developments created a latent mindset amongst the population. This mindset was further strengthened, or laid bare, by the top militant leader Syed Salahuddin’s surprising assertion in which he had almost approved the process of voting.
The campaign for the polls had begun well before the fall of 2008 and the politicians including Omar Abdullah and Mahbooba Mufti tried hard to sell their ‘made-in-Pakistan’ image in public rallies while referring to Salahuddin’s statement.
Had the terrorists not staged carnage in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, soon after two phases of polls in J&K, observers would have been busy envisaging India’s response to Pakistan’s ‘greatest CBM’ in the form of its tacit facilitation of the election process in the state. Now that the Mumbai tragedy has created hostility this CBM, which was presumably finalized between the national security advisors of both countries just before the elections were announced, is being responded with war talk.
Whatever the verdict, moot point in Kashmir context is the elections have concluded ‘successfully’, the people were just a trapped herd. And, this success has two fathers: India and Pakistan. No more malice against the people, for God’s sake!