‘The Emperors New Clothes’

“In a vibrant democracy, the voter must be given an opportunity to choose ‘None of the Above’ button, which will indeed compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate. This situation palpably tells us the dire need of negative voting” observed the Supreme Court of India on September 27 while deciding about providing the ‘NOTA’ option to voters across India. This judgment moves one step ahead in recognizing the democratic rights of individual voters for choosing none of the candidates in election fray.

Notwithstanding the NOTA option, any candidate who receives the highest number of votes would be declared elected. That would effectively mean even in a situation where the number of votes polled for NOTA may be in majority, still the candidate securing the largest number of votes other than NOTA will be declared the winner. Even while NOTA would be befit of any teeth to bite, it still could change the way political parties field candidates, fearing embarrassment of rejection from voters.

Not strangely however, political parties in Kashmir have been spooked by the applicability of NOTA here. While NOTA was aimed to strengthen democracy in mainland India, in Kashmir this option is seen by Pro Delhi parties as a window for their mass rejection by voters.  Had democracy been allowed to flourish by New Delhi and their representatives in Kashmir, the scare of NOTA exposing their real democratic ‘strength’ on ground would not have forced them to speak against its implementation.

The farce of democracy in Kashmir started with forced unilateral ‘contests’; in the first election to the J&K Legislative Assembly held on 15 October 1951 National Conference lead by Sheikh Abdullah was declared to have ‘won’ 73 of the 75 seats unopposed (nominations for all opposition candidates were rejected). This process continued so brazenly that soon after the 1962 elections, Indian P.M Nehru wrote to Bakshi (then P.M of Kashmir) “In fact, it would strengthen your position much more if you lost a few seats to bona fide opponents”. In later years the farce of 1987 elections is vividly remembered in Kashmir where NC with the support of New Delhi openly mass rigged elections, followed by torture of political opponents. This was an ignition for the rise of militancy in Kashmir.

During the 1996 elections people alleged that Indian armed troops coerced them into voting, to show a turnout yet even then the turnout was not more than 10% across Kashmir. Most elections rode on poll boycott, political parties coming to power from pockets where maximum poll boycott took place. And it is this disenchanted majority in Kashmir that might like to use NOTA, making it difficult for political forces to use proxy votes of electorate who otherwise would not vote.  If denying democratic rights to Kashmir was not enough, India has also been covertly playing with electoral demographics in the state. In 1989 Kashmir had almost 10% more voters than Jammu yet within a decade this trend was reversed. As Dr Hasseb Drabu pointed “The population of Jammu region as per the 2001 census was 43.9 lakh while that of Kashmir was 54.4 lakh; that is, 20 per cent lower. Yet Jammu had 28.7 lakh voters while Kashmir has only 25.5 lakh voters. Despite lower population, the 37 constituencies of Jammu have 1.8 lakh more voters than the 46 constituencies in Kashmir…….All this is a part of the systemic and systematic disenfranchisement of the Kashmiris. Their weightage, despite higher population, is declining in the electoral arena.”

Over decades this covert disfranchisement of common people has been engineered for a ‘New Delhi controlled democracy’ in Kashmir where they have been extending power lease of their political representatives and NOTA would take away some wind from their proxy sails. Hence the palpable fear on the faces of these parties here. Even for those of electorate in  Kashmir who do turn out to vote, they have always been in a dilemma of sorts ‘if we vote, rigging will still happen’ to ‘let’s give voting a try for local governance’, while still cherishing the idea of Azadi.

Ironically the same politicians who never stop parroting “separatists lack the mass support and people have defied boycott calls” are the ones running for cover over NOTA. And when politicians, both from NC and CONgress claim “The NOTA option for voting would only strengthen the hands of separatists,” they are actually admitting that the separatist sentiment in Kashmir is not only alive but in a majority and that the pro freedom camp holds considerable influence on ground. Why would otherwise the CONgress treat democracy differently in India mainland and in Kashmir?

The opposition to NOTA from these political entities has not only exposed their hollow democratic foundations but also once again exposed the denial of democracy by India in Kashmir. Either ways NOTA is all set to pinch them; if NOTA is applied people will use this tool to reject representatives of New Delhi and if NOTA is denied, it will give the pro freedom camp (separatists) more proof to point at the denial of democracy in Kashmir. This even while the pro freedom camp has rejected any interest in NOTA.

Kashmir has always been treated as ‘special case’ by New Delhi in ‘what rights are good for other states are not good for Kashmir’ practice. Since democracy in Kashmir has been reduced to a New Delhi nominated rule where power lease is extended to proxies from time to time, should an easier adaptation of ‘occupational democracy’ not be pushed here? How about New Delhi formally executing a totalitarian regime here since the ‘two party contest with local taxes extra of Army influenced side kicks’ in Kashmir has already been reduced to a pretending election between opponents who then collaborate as coalition power grabbing partners. A typical ‘herd them to elections, but you decide who gets to win’ scenario.

Surely ‘NOTA’ will not usher any democracy in Kashmir, but its mere implementation or refusal will again bare naked ‘The Emperors New Clothes’.  

Author blogs at: http://www.saadut.com/

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