Casting votes, not stones: Indian authorities not holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in Kashmir is a big misstep

By scheduling Lok Sabha elections and not Assembly Elections in Jammu and Kashmir, what message are we sending out to the separatists, the opposition and the allies?

 |  4-minute read |   12-03-2019
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I am a bit baffled by the Election Commission’s (EC) decision to have Lok Sabha polls in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), but not assembly elections. Surely we have always claimed the moral upper hand against Pakistan (apparently the nation against which we wish to de-hyphenate ourselves) because we are a functioning electoral democracy where the ballot determines power and not the military establishment and/or dictators.

I know that people in the Valley are unlikely to vote in any significant number for either Lok Sabha or the assembly elections. At this point, they are mainly concerned with surviving in a battle zone and are alienated from the Indian project. Yet, I do believe that we in India have a point to make in conducting elections in the state. We would be saying that even under the worst circumstances, we don’t deny anyone their vote. We are big enough to strike against terror — but we are still invested in that shrinking constituency in Kashmir that has invested in electoral democracy.

What is really odd is that if the electoral machinery will fan out across the state to set up polling booths for people to vote for a national election, why could it not simultaneously get people to vote for an assembly?

1290096_wallpaper2_031119091058.jpgWhen the same arrangements will have to be made for the Lok Sabha polls in Kashmir, why not go all the way? (Source: Reuters)

Elaborate security arrangements would have to be made in any case to protect those on election duty, when out of the six Lok Sabha seats in the state, at least three are in terrain where symbols of the Indian state could be attacked. Why repeat the whole process all over again to elect an assembly? Why not save the public some money and save the Election Commission officials the stress of having to do it all over again?

It is true that candidates who stand for the 87-member assembly would also need protection, and in the past, some have been killed by terrorists. In the assembly breakdown, the Kashmir region has 46 seats, Jammu 37 and Ladakh 4. So, if we are going halfway, then why not go the entire distance, get more security personnel to protect the assembly candidates and complete the procedure?

There are implications to not having assembly polls in J&K.

493146-kashmir-prote_031119090750.jpgWe increasingly see only such images from Kashmir. It's high time the narative changed, even if for Voting Day. (Source: Reuters).

— Those who, in any case, mocked Indian democracy in Kashmir will have an even greater cause to turn around and say, we told you so: Democracy in Kashmir is a farce and India wants to keep us under military rule, dictated by Delhi.

— The traditional state parties who have invested in Indian democracy, such as the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who operate in the most difficult terrain, are left in the lurch, with both agreeing that not hosting elections is a victory for the separatists, backed by Pakistan.

— The opposition in the rest of India will say that the Modi government’s Kashmir policy is a failure. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-chief Mayawati has indeed said so the day after the EC announced the schedule.

The authors of the ghastly and false 'Two Nation' theory in Pakistan — that basically argues that Hindus and Muslims make separate nations — would be delighted in our inability to conduct state elections apparently because a part of the state is Muslim majority. For it is the secular part of our identity that is a little frayed — something that delights those who find validation in the separation of communities — each time a Kashmiri vendor is beaten up in India, a Muslim lynched and Muslim representation in Parliament minimised.

inside_031119090704.jpgLet him not cast a stone. Let him instead cast a vote. (Source: Reuters)

In this backdrop, we continue to fight over Kashmir and dehumanise its people, who, to my mind, now seem to exist only as a launching pad for the show of might, military prowess and daily rants on television. Yes, there is a history of an independence struggle, an insurgency and cross-border terrorism, but till now, we were at least pretending to have a human face in our handling of Kashmir.

Let’s keep up the pretence.

We are faced with a perplexing and troubling dualism in our nation. On the one hand, we have now crossed the threshold where even a lovely advertisement promoting a washing powder and selling the message of Hindu-Muslim unity is attacked for the idea of showing a Muslim boy as being friends with an apparently Hindu girl, both young children. But clearly, such hate mongering is part of organised trolling. And, on the other hand, we are celebrating that marvellous film Gully Boy made by Zoya Akhtar, where the principal characters happen to be Muslims. We obviously have various ideas of the nation pulling us in different directions.

But as we do insist that Kashmir is an inalienable part of India, let’s start treating the people as if they are.

Also read: Lok Sabha elections dates announced: From Pakistan to Kashmir and jobs, 5 issues that will dominate the electoral discourse

Writer

Saba Naqvi Saba Naqvi @_sabanaqvi

Eminent political journalist and writer. Author, most recently of Shades of Saffron: From Vajpayee To Modi

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