Dr. Ajay Chrungoo 

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Let Us Not Learn Wrong Lessons

By Dr. Ajay Chrungoo

2008 elections are now over. A power shift has taken place. PDP-Congress alliance has been replaced in the state by NC-Congress alliance. Chief Ministership of the state government has reverted back to a Kashmiri for full six years, if the alliance lasts that long. All the major portfolios like home, finance planning, revenue and power have been retained by NC signifying the retrieval of the status quo of power.This status quo had marginally changed during PDP-Congress alliance.

There are attempts to analyse the assembly verdict in Jammu and Kashmir through the traditional 'secular' prism and draw inferences which are either false or far fetched. The wrong assessments will eventually effect the success or failure of the 'government' which has been catapulted into power at a critical time when a stand off between India and Pakistan is building in intensity.

 

UNDERSTANDING THE FAILURE OF BOYCOTT

The turnout of voters in this election particularly in Kashmir valley has been phenomenal, more than 50% on an average. It is invariably a big victory for electoral process in Kashmir Valley. Many a eminent Kashmir analysts in New Delhi had prophecied that, "the government will be lucky if they get more than 10 percent people to come out and vote."

Out of all segments of people living in Jammu and Kashmir only Kashmiri Pandits abstained from voting. Their vote percentage was less than 10% and that too despite the fact that more than 43 Pandit candidates were in electoral fray and there was also no boycott call.

Both the factions of Hurriat Conference campaigned for boycott of elections well before the onset of elections. JKLF through its protracted 'Safar-e-Azadi' campaign focused eventually on boycott of elections at the conclusion of its rallies and interactions across the length and breadth of the Valley. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq Chairman of All Party Hurriat Conference had declared with confidence that 'there will be 100 percent poll boycott' Ali Shah Geelani, to enlarge the appeal of 'boycott slogan' even praised JKLF chief Yasin Malik and stated 'we want boycott Safar-e-Azadi way'. The analysts who conclude that the 2008 elections have been a decisive rebuff to separatists essentially underline the 'boycott call' as the only indispensable strategy of separatists. The flexibility and the deftness of the strategic interventions of Separatists in Kashmir Valley get overlooked in this formulation. The separatists establishment does give consideration to all such tactics which delegatimise the democratic process in the state. But they have always valued deepening of its entrenchment in the power structures within the state. Separatism in Valley has always considered its reach and sway to influence and control the elected governments in the state as its primary support structure perhaps as important as the support of Pakistan. So delegitimising elections by labelling them as rigged or coerced process or by campaigning for boycott are not simple black and white imperatives which the separatists pursue. They operate more in the grey area where they engage directly or indirectly into the election process. They influence the election manifesto and party policies of the political formations participating in elections. They influence the selection of candidates. They throw up proxy candidates into the election fray. The most essential objective which is pursued is not to allow any paradigm shift in the state policy and ensure that subversive entrenchment is only deepened but never eroded.

The entire spectrum of separatist strategies has evolved over a period of time. Ali Shah Geelani got himself elected to state assembly but relentlessly challenged Indian constitutional position and debunked election process. Jamat-i-Islami potrayed National Conference as its ideological rival in Kashmir and squarely blamed it for accession of Jammu and Kashmir with India. The anti-Jamaat rivalry manifested into streets when massive anti-Jamaat riots were lead by NC cadres. But this rivalary was also not a black and while phenomenon. A symbiotic relationship between NC and Jamaat particularly in the electoral sphere existed right till 2002. Jamaat cadres would mobilise voters for NC and NC would reciprocate by increasing Jamaat entrenchment in administration. Jamaat and other separatist formations built the same symbiotic relationship with newly formed PDP well before 2002 and has carried it right through the elections in 2008. There was, of course, a conflict of interests between separatists formations including Jamat-i-Islami and PDP which had come into public domain in last into years. Separatists visualised PDP as a usurper of its agenda. It  sensed encroachment on its space by none other than PDP. The stand off between PDP and separatist formations would have continued but the terrorist attack in Mumbai changed the Course of events in the Valley. Increased isolation of Pakistan and pressures on separatist' feeder channel’s across made Jamaat-i-Islami to change track. Mufti as per reports had been intensely campaigning for their support.

It is difficult to comment as to when exactly Jamaat decided to comeout whole hog in support of PDP but its  involvement in elections started manifesting right after the 1st phase of elections. It built into a crescendo in the later phases. The top Jamaat leaders were seen openly campaigning for PDP in Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama as also everywhere. Analysts read too much into the anti-election rhetoric of Ali Shah Geelani but ignored the Traditional line of Jamaat-i-Islami which maintained distance from boycott call and cautioned that in the prevailing political scenario such a stance may prove 'counterproductive'.  One thing is very clear now. The separatist establishment intervened in election process not to boycott as was their public stance but actually to increase the turnout of voters.

This assessment does not at all indicate that even if separatists would have campaigned aggressiverly for boycott they would have actually succeeded. In that eventuality voter turnout would have been less but certainly an improvement over 2002 elections.

 

OTHER FACTORS

The rural urban divide in Valley and developmental issues were a dominant consideration for the people.  Sweeping inference is being drawn by some analysts in Delhi that the growth of PDP in Valley is primarily the reflection of rural urban divide rather than communal campaign. However many credible analysts have come out openly to record that PDP campaign had a brazen communal character. Noted columnist Sh. Parveen Swami states, "for the PDP,  the returns from the incendiary communal campaign it ran this summer, as well as its efforts to reach out to secessionists have been disappointing." Immediately after the election results were declared Farooq Abdullah openly accepted that PDP ran a campaign on 'Islamist agenda'. Many residents of Kulgam area confided in their Pandit friends that Miss Mehbooba Mufti was openly telling voters to choose between a 'school or a mosque'. "We are for Mosque. If you choose a Mosque a school will automatically come. But not the other way". PDP in its expositions has been identifying with Muslim causes globally more than NC. It has sought to project 'Selfrule" document as more in consonance with the movement of Pan-Islamism rather than Kashmiri Aspirations.

However, under playing of rural urban divide as an important influence on the elections will be equally incorrect. Rural-Urban divide has evolved in Kashmir Valley with the emergence of a large rural middle class over the years. Emergence of Mufti Mohd Sayeed, Late Abdul Gani Lone, Jamat-i-Islami and MuF reflects it more than anything else. This time PDP made significant inroads into North Kashmir. PDP has won six seats there while NC has done marginally better by winning seven seats. Central Kashmir extending between Kangan and Ganderbal with Srinagar as its core has been virtually swept by National Conference. However, PDP retained its stranglehold on South Kashmir where it won 12 out of 16 seats. The better performance of PDP is also a reflection of the urge of rural political class to control political power.

This rural urban rivalary has deepened over the years and now spilled into the public domain. Previously this divide was subdued but now it has exploded into open. Reverberations of this rivalary can be heard even after elections. Recently Sh. M.G. Hassan Mukhtar a freelance journalists wrote in Kashmir Times that, "The original citizens of Srinagar treat all villagers as second class irrespective of the language they speak.If a villager goes to moon the urbanities would never digest it and rather pull his legs...In reality the superiority complex (read inferiority complex of foolishness) of urban fellows on the basis of nothing towards villagers is not a good thing" In Srinagar this bitterness can be gauged by a cursory talk on politics at a vegetable vendors shop or a burgers shop.

The increased developmental process during PDP-Congress regime in rural areas has further heightened the divide. Mufti used the Prime Minister's Gram Sadak Yojna to build extensive road connectivity particularly in South Kashmir. Any village with a population of 500 or more was connected by a metalled road. A large portion of the 24,000 crore special aid package to Kashmir was spend in the rural areas. Creation of development authorities in Gulmarg, Tangmarg Pahalgam, Sonamarg and many other places hastened the developmental process in rural areas which did translate into political benefits for Mufti.

Mufti has not only used predominantly the fundamentalist card and soft secessionist slogans, but also the rural urban divide and developmental slogans to stabilise his party.

NC retained its previous number of 28 in the assembly. PDP has increased its tally from 18 to 21. In 2008 elections there has been an overall swing of 5 percent in favour of PDP. It has shown tendency to grow all over the Valley and has made dent in certain areas of Jammu. The new Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has acknowledged this trend by openly admitting, "the results definitely gave a fair idea that PDP is making inroads everywhere in Valley. I think we need to take stock of it."

 

JAMMU RESULTS

While belittling the communal contours of PDP's rise the 'liberal' analysts infer a rise of communal stridency in Jammu region. Which well-known columnists like Shankar Jha describe as 'historical' as if it is integral to the attitude of people living in Jammu. Even a better informed journalist like Parveen Swami does not contest such sweeping generalisations. His comments that," despite the apparently dramatic improvement in BJP's fortunes-which have taken it from just one seat in 2002 to 11 now, Hindu Chauvinism hasn't yielded exceptional pay offs". The massive support to Amar Nath Agitation in Jammu and hightened consciousness about the systematic and organised discrimination meeted out to Jammu is an expression of Hindu Chauvinism for even the unbiased 'liberal' intellectuals in rest of India. This is perhaps an expression of a faulty vision which recognises concession to the Muslim identity politics in J&K as a secular imperative. .

In Jammu province Congress won 13 seats and BJP won 11 seats. There was almost a 3 percent negative swing against Congress and a 10 percent swing in favour of BJP. BJP has been runners-up in 13 seats and the number three in 7 constituencies in Jammu region which means it has now decisively staked its claims for at least 30 constituencies in Jammu. But is the rise of BJP an outcome of communal polarisation in the aftermath of Amarnath Agitation? Certain features of the election outcome in Jammu have to be recognised to answer this question.

BJP candidates lost in most of the constituencies where the intensity of Amarnath agitation was high. It suffered defeat in Kathua, Billawar, Samba Vijaypur, Bishnah, Gandhi Nagar, Chhamb, Akhnoor Udhampur, Chenani and Ramban. Mostly Congress candidates won from these constituencies with one each going to National Conference and JK National Panthers Party. Congress lost to BJP in those constituencies where Amaranth Agitation was weak like Reasi, Basohli and Bani. The defeat of Shilipi Verma the widow of Kuldeep Verma the martyr hero of Amarnath Agitation is revealing. Also notable is the fact that those Congress candidates won who had a better record as MLA's or ministers and who had also supported Amarnath Agitation. Sham Lal Sharma from Akhnoor and Raman Bhalla from Gandhi Nagar are the best examples to elucidate the fact. Almost all the Congress Ministers in previous assembly lost this time. The best examples are that of Pt. Mangat Ram Sharma and Gulchain Singh Charak. These ministers had not one come out openly in favour of Amarnath agitation. Even the star campaigners of BJP like LK Advani, Rajnath Singh, Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitely, Murli Manohar Joshi, Navjot Singh Sidhu could not succeed in  wooing voters against those Congress candidates who had performed well as sitting MLAs and unambiguously identified with the sentiment of Jammu.

 

SIDELIGHTS

Towards the end of this analysis it will be pertinent to record some observations which have a value for the future. Sakina Itoo won from South Kashmir against the tide of Islamists. Mohd. Yusuf Tarigami of CPI(M) defeated his PDP rival for whom Jamat lead no holds bar campaign. Mr. Tarigami of CPI(M) who at every opportunity has supported separatists cause and undermined the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits seemed trailing almost to the end of the counting process only to sail across after few hundred Pandit votes caste in his favour where counted towards the end.

The Kashmiri Pandit votes cast in small numbers showed preference in favour of NC where the main choice was between NC and PDP. Dr Shafi of PDP won from Beerwah constituency by a mere margin of 124 votes which included 80 votes from KP's. This may be an exception because he was favoured not for his party affiliation and was considered a better person having close relationship with the Pandits of his constituency.

Congress won 3 seats from Kashmir Valley. Has done well in 5 more constituencies. It has at least a clear demarcated chunk of 10 assembly seats to work for in the next elections.

 

CONCLUSION

'The 2008 mandate can stabilise the situation if NC plays its cards well. After 2002 elections NC adopted a policy line of mirroring or aping PDP line. It changed its policy on Pakistan and terrorism hoping that it will steal a March ahead of PDP. At the crunch time of elections fundamentalist establishment and Pakistan made a choice in favour of PDP leaving it in lurch. Will NC ride the same ideological band wagon?

Congress has survived on the edge. Will it ignore its legislative base as it has done in the past and loose its relevance in Jammu?

BJP enthused by the response of people during the elections and hoping to win around twenty five seas threw enough hints that it was ready to join hands with PDP or NC to come to government. It has shown ready willing to dispense with its ideological baggage for which it still has space in Jammu. Will it play the power game or the role of an instrument to bring a fundamental change in power balance in favour of Jammu?

CPI(M) has again survived a sole presence in the present assembly from Kulgam constituency in Kashmir Valley. Jamaat declared it as a party of ‘Kuffar’. People still voted it into power in a stiff battle. Will CPI(M) still flirt with Muslim communalism and separatism as it has done so far?

The future in J&K is pregnant with possibilities both good or bad.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

 
 

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