Misinterpretation of high voter turnout and elections in Jammu and Kashmir

By Dr. Fayaz Ahmad Bhat

The history of all hitherto underway Assembly elections in the State of Jammu and Kashmir is history of push pooling, fraud, manipulation, rigging, controversy, coercion and misinterpretation. There have been widespread charges against New Delhi (Indian Government) for election rigging, installation of governments from 1951 to present. It was Congress Government at Delhi which is accused of controlling governments in the State from 1951 to 1965.

Prem Nath Bazaz (1978) maintains that “After independence, rulers of Jammu and Kashmir State were not the freely chosen representatives of the people as they should have been but were the nominees and the proteges of the Central Congress Government.” Similar views have been expressed by B. K. Nehru who was Governor of the state from 1981 to 1984. After nasty blow to autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir with 63rd amendment Act of Indian constitution Article 365 was applied to State of Jammu and Kashmir and posts of Sadar-e- Riysat and Prime Minister were abolished, election process in the State has been mere fun and fuss. The First Assembly Elections in Kashmir held in 1965 dumped Sheikh Abdullah and installed Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq as First Chief Minister of the State. The Sixth Assembly elections in 1984 were held to install the government of Ghulam Mohammad Shah commonly known as Gul Shah or Gul Curfew. The Seventh Assembly elections held in 1987 were programmed and planed, and elections rigged. According to Sudha Ramachandran “The 1987 election undermined the Kashmiris’ faith in the ballot box. It convinced the youth that with the ballot having failed them, they would have to turn to the bullet to deliver.”

B. K. Nehru (1997) asserts that Heads of Governments in the State of Jammu and Kashmir from 1953 to 1975 had been nominees of Delhi. “Their appointment to that post was legitimized by the holding of farcical and totally rigged elections in which the congress party led by Delhi’s nominee was elected by huge majorities.” The elections in the State from 1996 to 2008 were held with barrel of gun. It has been reported that “the people were literally dragged out physically from their homes at gunpoint, dumped into army trucks and brought to polling booths.” It was only since 2008 that the people cost their vote on their own but the elections in Kashmir since 1996 have been in vogue. The election boycott call by “separatists” on occasions has been quite effective especially in urban areas and in few rural pockets. There have been many occasions when people especially belonging to rural areas defied boycott call and have come out in large numbers to vote. This time in the first phase of the assembly elections the State witnessed a turnout of more than 71 percent, despite boycott call by “separatist”. This is the highest over the past 18 years. In the first phase of assembly elections (held on 25 of November 2014) the State witnessed more than 71 percent voter turnout. This is the highest voter turnout witnessed by the State over the past Eighteen years (assembly elections in the
state are held every six years).

Like past every party, “separatists”, main stream politicians of the State and New Delhi interpret high voter turnout in their own ways and put forth their own meanings and interpretations of voting in Kashmir. Both ‘separatists’ and mainstream politicians ascribe high voter turn out to collective issues and problems like “Sadak, Pani, aur Bijli!” (electricity, roads and drinking water!”). Indian Government uses high voter turnout (more than 71%) as propaganda to show to the world that the majority of Kashmiris respect and favour Indian Constitution and are with India forgetting the fact that voter turnout in 1987 was 78.65 percent and exploded into full fledged armed struggle against Indian rule in the State.

As noted earlier whether these are “separatist” or main stream politicians of the state both are attempting to conceal their failure and faults by misinterpreting or wrong labeling high voter turnout in Kashmir. The high voter turnout in Kashmir particularly in rural areas and in some urban outstrikes is ascribed to collective issues “Sadak, Pani, aur Bijli!” This is nothing but absurd and silly. The higher voter turnout in Kashmir is not for Sadak, Pani and Bijli which are collective issues but people have diverse meanings, interpretation and reasons for voting and elections. Those who cost their vote or boycott have their subjective, meaning, understanding and interpretation of elections in Kashmir. There are also sociological dimensions attached to higher voter turn outs in rural India. Rural areas in India especially in Kashmir or still dominated by tradition values, norms and belief systems with tradition having a profound impact on the interaction and daily lives of rural people. A contestant belonging to rural area is having wide network of kinship and relations which increases his number of voters and supporters significantly. This proportionately increases polling percentage in Kashmir especially in rural areas.

Observations and interaction reveal voting and boycott are not similar, simple and unique. The more people one interacts with, the more reasons he/she come across. Every one each individual vote or boycott with his/her own meaning and interpretation of elections and having their own interests and responses, emotions and feelings. Some individuals vote to get a Sarkari Naukari, (government job) most of those who are in Sarkari Naukri and vote, vote to stop posting at far flung areas or away from vicinity. A large chunk of populace not only vote but also support to get undue benefits and bucks (mostly contractors) and a good number of people vote to avenge personal feuds. So the notion that people vote for “Sadak, Pani, aur Bijli!” fell apart from syllogism. Moreover data and statistics reveal that the crises of Bijli in the state especially in the valley of Kashmir have worsened. Forty percent of rural populace is still without drinking water facility and despite various centrally sponsored schemes 20-25 percent habitations is yet to be connected with the roads. So where lays the truth?

Marx way back in 1844 said that the “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” After Marx it was Ivan Illich in 1970 who widened the scope and boundary of Marx thought and philosophy by employing his ideas and doctrine to other social institution to understand the reality. While analyzing realness of educational institutions and education process Ivan Illich maintained schools have become world religion for poor and makes false promises of salvation. This can equally be relevant and applicable to understand the political institutions and political process. The political institutions, elections and boycott in context of Kashmir can be termed as sigh of the oppressed creatures, the heart of heartless people and the soul of soulless acting as opium for the masses.

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Fayaz Ahmad Bhat

Dr. Fayaz Ahmad Bhat is head of the department and teaches Sociology at Government Degree College Banihal Jammu and Kashmir. Dr.Fayaz is MPhil, PhD, NET in Sociology besides having Masters in Political Science also. He has completed his Doctorate degree from Jamia Millia Islamia a reputed Central University of India. He has also been awarded centrally administered Doctoral Fellowship by India Council of Social Science Research.

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