An Election Like No Other

Is it possible that Kashmiris are now willing to jettison the “special status”, not to speak of the goal of “azadi” for a ‘strong’ leader who could deliver development? This election for Kashmiris is like no other they have participated in, and they will bear responsibility for what choices they make

Here is what seems to be the historic irony of the election season in Jammu & Kashmir: that the “nationalists” should be pinning their prospect of success on a silent collaboration of the “separatists.” A veritable Benzene ring with a double valency bond, what?

But, maybe not quite. Word is that Geelani sahib, always first to sense the shape of things, has already withdrawn his earlier call for poll boycott, realizing that this time around the interests of Kashmiris can only be met by an emphatic voter turnout in the Valley, whereas the votaries of “integration” have been hoping to win a “democratic” victory with as few votes as possible, making the migrant Pandit vote a decisive factor.

It remains to be seen whether the Mirwaiz and Yaseen Malik will follow suit, or convey the message through covert channels, achieving two purposes simultaneously. Like Geelani sahib, they too must be weighing the fact that this once democracy may be less an anathema than a form of integrationism that seeks to transcend democracy, however flawed the latter be.

The larger speculation must bear on whether what is sought to be claimed has substance on the ground or whether political realities in the valley remain, after all, undeterred and unimpressed. Ergo, are Muslim Kashmiris truly going to go over to Mr Modi, disregarding the perspectives he represents? Is his slogan of “development” likely to be puissant and persuasive enough to drown out the preferred federalist and secular political habits and traditions among Kashmiri voters?

Is the frustration of Kashmiris with “regional” political voices suddenly so overwhelming that they may decide to go with a “strong” central leader who they think will deliver “development” without being able to upset the applecart of “special status” that hinges so indubitably on the ineluctable immutability of Article 370 of the Constitution of India? Can it be said that generation next in the valley now is as apolitical as their counterparts in India’s cities and metropolises, and as indifferent to the politics of communal fascism?

Is it possible that they are now as willing to jettison “special status”, not to speak of the goal of “azadi,” as those Kashmiris who in parts of the Jammu region principally have been pushing for? Or do they think that a decisive “nationalist” footprint in the valley will make little difference to Kashmiri disaffection with the centre and Kashmiri refusal to succumb to blandishments or coercion, regardless of who wields them?

What is interesting is the fact that the BJP, its habitual bluster to the contrary, does not seem so sure. Or else why would it sing different tunes on Article 370 -”principled” in Jammu, appeasing in the valley? Why would it leave untouched its designated candidate in the Ameerakadal constituency whom I, among many others, heard say on TV that were anyone to touch Article 370, “I will be the first to raise the gun”?

We are told, typically, that the lady in question has “withdrawn” her statement: the question is what has she withdrawn, her boast to raise the gun or her allegiance to Article 370? Let us be cognizant that Saam, Daam, Dhand, Bhed remain the guiding philosophical bullet -points of the Hindu Rightwing-to wit, persuasion, pricing, punishment, fracture, any or all of these tactics may be used on the antagonist to get at his jugular.

On the other hand, is it an unlovely prospect that the failure of the BJP to obtain comparable results in Jammu and Kashmir provinces severally could reinforce rather fatally a communal divide that has been in the making for a quarter century now? And would such a prospect carry within it the seed of a Balkanization fraught with poisonous consequence to the rest of India?

Clearly, this election for Kashmiris is like no other they have participated in, and they will bear responsibility for what choices they make, the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system notwithstanding. Just as the responsibility will equally devolve on secular parties for their success or failure in obtaining consolidation of the secular vote.

Also, were a Maharashtra to be replicated in Jammu & Kashmir, it would be of consuming interest to see what parties or factions would be willing or not to help the “nationalists” to form a government. It remains a testimony to the deep-rooted secular traditions in the Valley that spokespersons of all regional parties have made an explicit repudiation of the sentiment that the state’s chief minister must come from only a particular community.

This forceful enunciation ought indeed to reinforce our faith in the outstanding history of the state as well as teach other states to emulate the secular-democratic adherence of Kashmiris to the principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

----Dr Badri Raina is a distinguished commentator on politics, culture and society. A Fulbright Scholar and PhD from Madison, Wisconsin, Prof Raina taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is the author of the much acclaimed "Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth.

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