Lessons from Kashmir Elections!

Even though New Delhi has tried its best to project elections in Kashmir as a ‘substitute’ for the ‘right to self determination’, it has never really succeeded in its attempts for the simple reason that these two issues are as different as chalk and cheese. Thus, it comes as no big surprise that the international community has out rightly rejected this illogical proposition. However, what does come as a surprise is that while there are no takers for New Delhi’s perspective, the separatist leadership as well as the United Jihad Council chief and Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Sallaudin seem to be so threatened by New Delhi’s viewpoint, that they use every available means at their disposal to sabotage the election process. So, making poll boycott appeals, giving hartal calls on polling days as well issuing threats followed by ‘targeted killings’ by ‘unidentified gunmen’ has become a routine practice in the run-up to every election in Kashmir. 

So, going by past experience, violence during the 2014 elections in Kashmir was very much expected and as such, none of us were surprised when guns and bombs shattered the fragile peace here. However, while one did foresee this and would have anticipated that the security forces and law enforcing agencies would be the obvious targets of the public and militants’ ire; few would have ever expected that a polling staff party would be subjected to a murderous attack by militants in which Zia-ul-Haq, a 27 year old school teacher would unfortunately meet his untimely end. Nor would have anyone ever expected that our own youth belonging to Baramulla and Sopore would turn into vigilantes and by stripping and trashing them, ‘punish’ the residents of Kupwara district who defying the poll boycott calls had cast their votes!  

After experiencing these disturbing incidents, one is bound to ask the question- what is happening to us and what is turning us into vendetta- seeking lynch mob. Of course, one could always sit content by blaming this disquieting  attitudinal shift to ‘conspiracies’ hatched to undermine the ongoing struggle for the ‘right to self determination’, as we have always done in the past. Or, we could just pass this off as the manifestation of ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ commonly found amongst hapless citizen caught in conflict zones and accuse New Delhi for the same. But by doing so, we would be guilty of intentionally shying away from reality just in order to avoid our societal responsibilities. Therefore, we must ponder over the reasons responsible for the emergence of these unhealthy trends and have the courage to call spade a spade, even if upsets some people or groups as we too, despite being the anonymous public are very much important stakeholders as far as the future of Kashmir is concerned!

Though the Hurriyat (G) chairman has expressed his anguish on both these incidents, his statements unfortunately lack the authoritative tone and tenor for which the venerable octogenarian is renowned. More distressing is the fact that like always, Geelani saheb unfortunately tends to play down the enormity of the issue by attempting to justify the wrongdoings of his own people. While in doing so he may be playing the role of an indulgent patriarch, I’m sure that with his vast experience, the Hurriyat (G) chairman would certainly know that if overlooked, mistakes committed by the young only encourages them to become all the more belligerent with the passage of time. Moreover, even if we overlook the faults of our youth, the international community is certainly not so benevolent. Thus, even though we may feel very strongly about our boys, who on merely pelting stones are being fired upon with live bullets by the law enforcing agencies, the international community remains unmoved. Have the separatist leaders ever wondered as to why the international community has never called for an international probe into the ‘unmarked’ graves in Kashmir or demanded an investigation into the large number of protesters killed during the 2010 summer unrest? The answer is simple- the international community fully approves the use of force by a State to ‘subdue’ acts of violence, even if it is excessive or grossly disproportionate! 

In the case of the militant attack on a polling duty party in which Master Zia-ul-Haq was killed, the Hurriyat (G) chairman while sympathising with the bereaved family of the deceased teacher, made two comments which could have been well avoided. Firstly, by stating that, “The election drama in Jammu and Kashmir is held in war-like situation and the government employees are forcibly involved in this game, which doesn’t have any justification,” he has unwittingly accepted that the separatists fully approve the use of physical violence to disrupt polls in Kashmir by creating a “war-like situation.” Thus by his own admission, Geelani saheb has only helped reinforce New Delhi’s propaganda that it is not the security forces but the separatists and militants who are intimidating their own people and thus a large presence of security forces in Kashmir is necessary to ‘save’ the public from these entities who are ‘imperiling the life of innocents’ by creating a “war-like” situation!

Secondly, while commenting on death of Master Zia-ul-Haq, the Hurriyat (G) chairman also made an insensitive remark by choosing this solemn occasion to convey a political message that government employees nominated for poll duties should ‘resist’ their assignment and “If the government still forces them into it, then they should fight it out in the courts.” While this logic of this argument in itself is contentious, using this occasion of grief to convey the same amounts to telling the bereaved family that while the militant attack on the polling duty party was ‘legitimate’, it was the failure of the deceased teacher to ‘resist’ his selection for polling duty that cost him his life! The tragedy of this unfortunate episode is not only the snuffing out of a human life or the insensitive remarks made regarding the death of the teacher, but also that the militants ultimately achieved nothing by killing one of their own innocent brother as the public still cast their votes just as expected for which they were subsequently beaten up by their own brethren!

While announcing that “The act of thrashing and stripping those who voted has pained me,” and appealing for peace and harmony after this incident, the Hurriyat (G) chairman, instead of reprimanding the culprits for the shameful act of humiliating and attacking their own brothers, surprisingly blamed the victims instead. Saying that “The people of Kupwara and Handwara have not only harmed the sacred cause of the nation but they have also betrayed the sacrifices of Kashmiris especially those in north Kashmir,” he went on to defend the culprits by saying that this incident was just a ‘reaction’ of the youth to the voting percentage in Handwara and Kupwara. So, while expressing anguish over the infighting over polling, the Hurriyat (G) chairman has also made it amply clear that he has not forgiven those who dared defy his poll boycott diktat and this type of vindictive responses are certainly not going to do any good to the ongoing struggle in Kashmir!

Tailpiece: If intimidating people, killing of innocents, humiliating and beating up each other is the strategy for taking the movement for the ‘right to self determination’ forward, then I’m afraid, I must choose opt out of the same as ‘azadi’ at the cost of losing our cultural values and destroying our social fabric is certainly not worth it. Seeing the ongoing struggle in Kashmir flounder due to lack of any meaningful policies is painful enough- so please spare us the agony of seeing this movement degenerate into anarchy due to tacit acceptance and encouragement of a vigilante culture and lynch- mob mentality! 

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