An Election with a Difference
With just less than 24 hours to go for the ninth assembly Elections
in Jammu and Kashmir, the entire world focus has shifted to Kashmir. Afterall,
the second assembly elections in these past 13 years of turmoil and bloodshed
have assumed much significance in view of the fact that not only these
are sharply different from the 1996 assembly polls when even the voters
shied away from calling their ballots, but also because of the fact that
many separatists outside the Hurriyat Conference are testing the poll waters.
Though the fear of gun has not totally vanished but still these elections
could serve as a new beginning in Kashmir politics as Azadi, in most of
the Kashmir areas has taken a back-seat and Kashmiri people focussing on
other issues mainly the future of their children and 'bread and butter'
besides other problems with whom they are grappling with each passing day.
The Jammu and Kashmir assembly, unlike any other assembly in India,
goes to polls after every six years. In these elections, J&K has also
become the first state in the country to implement the supreme court judgment
intended to stop criminalization of politics.
These elections will be held in four phases on September 16 and 24,
October 1 and 8.The entire election process should be completed before
October 12 so that the new Legislative Assembly can be constituted before
October 17 when the six-year term of the present assembly expires.
Official figures reveal that out of the 56,12,149 lakh voters,
around 15,84913 people will go for polling in the first phase of polling
in six districts. As many as 24 constituencies in Kupwara, Baramulla, Kargil,
Rajouri and Poonch will go to the polls in the first phase tomorrow, that
is 16 September, 28 in Srinagar, Budgam and Jammu in the second phase,
27 in Pulwama, Anantnag, Kathua and Udhampur in the third phase and the
remaining six in Doda district in the last phase. Unlike last
assembly elections, this time the Election Commission which is determined
to conduct free and fair polls, has taken several measures, including
some path breaking ones, to ensure that everyone in the state got a free
and equal chance to vote. These include updated and computerized electoral
rolls in Urdu, use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for the first time
in all 87 assembly constituencies, special arrangements for migrant Kashmiri
Pandits to vote through EVMs in Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi, special voter
identity cards made on high security paper, distribution of voter identity
slips by the chief electoral officer, increase in the number of polling
stations, deployment of "hand picked'' election observers ahead of the
polling and more equitable security cover for candidates contesting the
polls. About 7,000 polling stations have been set up. About 8,000 EVMs
are being used.
The electoral rolls, which had been last revised intensively in 1988,had
been updated and computerised. This had resulted in 200,000 fresh entries
in the rolls, which were drafted in Urdu with the help of the Uttar Pradesh
Urdu academy and the UP chief electoral officer. In another
unprecedented measure, the commission had decided to itself distribute
voter identity slips, normally handed out by political parties. The identity
slips were being delivered to all households with the facility for them
to post them back to the Chief Electoral Officer for necessary deletions
or corrections. The Voter Identity Cards have been made on high security
paper specially got from the India Security Press at Nashik.
The Model Code of Conduct is being vigorously enforced. A Deputy Commissioner
and number of other officers have been transferred on the directions of
the Election Commission. A minister of Utter Pradesh Government, who ferried
the BSP Supreme Kanshi Nath to J&K has been asked to pay for the flights
from his own pocket.
Besides, J&K assembly elections- 2002 are being held on the basis
of census- 2001 that was carried out after a gap of 21 years. The next
assembly will therefore enjoy the distinction of representing the largest
number of electorate. The population of the State has recorded large increase
during last two decades.
However, the most important thing about these elections is that these
are being conducting in most turbulent times when state has been suffering
the brunt of militancy, foreign mercenaries’ element which was zero in
1996 elections has now dominated 60 per cent of terrorism here and are
hell bent upon disrupting the electoral process. Unlike 1996, when terrorism
was only restricted to Kashmir valley and Poonch, Rajouri and Doda district
of Jammu region, all the six districts of Jammu region including Jammu
city which has witnessed deadliest fidayeen attacks this year, have been
engulfed by terrorism. And that is what worries the security agencies for
these polls. Besides, terrorist groups like Hizbul Mujahideen, Al Umar
Mujahideen, Jaimat-ul Mujahideen, Islamic Front and Jehad Kashmir have
joined hands together to thwart the electoral process. However, Kashmiris
this time are not much influenced by the terrorist threats and their anti-poll
campaign. Even senior Separatist leader Shabir Shah concedes, "Yes, people
will come out to vote. Especially in rural areas of Kashmir . But not because
they have forgotten the cause but because they have number of problems,
they want peace, they want stability, they want their problems like unemployment
to be addressed to and this corrupt National Conference government has
eaten into their shares," said Shah.
Elections has also assumed different dimension with the entry of separatists
in the pollfray and most among them are those who had launched anti-poll
campaign in 1996 polls. The entry of three such candidates in Kupwara district,
Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Sofi ( Handwara), Abdul Haq Khan, Lolab, and Abdul Rashid
Mirchal, Karnah, owing allegiance to Peoples Conference (PC) of slain Huriryat
leader Abdul Gani Lone, an important Hurriyat constituent, has virtually
set election cauldron simmering, much to the chagrin of National Conference
(NC). Add to this the candidature of Abdul Khaliq Hanief, former political
secretary of hard-line Hurriyat leader and head of Jamat-e- Islami ‘s political
wing Syed Ali Shah Geelani from Sonawari in Baramulla,
Not only people have been thronging in thousands in rallies in Kupwara,
Handwara and other areas of Baramulla which would witness polling tomorrow,
but there is certainly change of moods also. Peoples Conference candidates’
popularity is giving sleepless nights to National Conference and other
parties. Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Sofi ,People’s Conference leader and separatist
who was close associate of slain Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone has been
the biggest crowd puller and observers say that his victory is sure. Infact,
this time enthusiasm is very high among the people who are actively taking
part in the elections with a strong hope—development of the State.
More striking contrast between the election 2002 and election-1996 is that
in 1996 candidates were scarce to find and an overpowering sense of fear
and apprehension generally prevailed. But it is not the case now with not
only Jammu region but entire Kashmir valley seems to be fully immersed
in the election gush. In rural Kashmir, there is an air of festivity with
buntings and banners erected at various places inscribed with party slogans.
Flags of various political parties are hoisted in large numbers, terrorist
killings of candidates and their supports not withstanding.
The statistics corroborate this projection. More than 333 election rallies
were held in the last one month across the State from August 2nd to September
2nd, different national and regional parties, 125 alone by the National
Conference and 55 by. The public mood this time is suggestive of that people
of the state want an enduring peace and vibrant democracy from the core
of their hearts.
The recent killing of an independent candidate, Sheikh Ghulam Rasool,
has further raised the level of public anger against terrorists and people
are defying the boycott diktat in their desperate quest for peace through
the ballot. The option of bullet seems to have been decisively been discarded.
Many significant developments have already taken place in pre-election
period including the formation of Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF),
a front floating by all the major political parties in Ladakh dissolving
their difference and fighting for the cause of Union Territory status
for Ladakh. Such an overwhelming response this front got from Ladakhi people
in just few days of its formation that two its of its candidates were declared
winner unopposed, This was a shot in the arm for the Front. Now , out of
the two district of Leh and Kargil, only Kargil would go to polls tomorrow
as two seats of Leh- Leh city and Nobra have been won by LUTF.
In 1996 J&K assembly elections, Junior Abdullah was nowhere but
this time ruling National Conference had a change of guard. Omar Abdullah
not only succeeded his father, Dr Farooq Abdullah as president of the party
but also emerged as the chief ministerial candidate and his father Dr Farooq
Abdullah who could not make it to the Vice-presidency, eyes now for rajya
Two serving ministers of State, Mohammad Hussain of Darhal, Rajouri
and Qmar Ali of Kargil, ex-ministers and number of sitting MLAs were denied
party mandate. Perhaps for the first time in the history of National Conference
so many long time party loyalists revolted. Some have been fielded by other
contesting parties. Others decided to contest as independents. Almost all
political parties worth the name have suffered defections.
In Jammu, the RSS backed Jammu State Morcha had entered the election
fray on the issue of statehood for Jammu region. This has further weakened
the already depleted BJP vote bank. It has also compounded the confusion
amongst the cadres, who are torn between loyalty to the parent organization,
the RSS and commitment to the party ruling at the center, which does not
support trifurcation of the State. All this, obviously does not auger well
for the party, which had suffered grievous loss of credibility due to its
coalition with National Conference at the center while opposing the party
in the State tooth and nail.
To what extent the people of Jammu and Kashmir get some respite from
the bloodshed and violence, would peace ultimately prevail, Would the bloodshed
and violence against women, children and hapless civilians stop and how
much these ninth assembly elections help in the return of peace to this
paradise on the earth, only time will tell.