By: Fayaz Ganie
Srinagar: The prognosis of the Urban Local Body election leads us to the question: have institutions lost credibility in Kashmir? But before answering this that better is to reply the other question, was democracy ever born in Kashmir. The conditions today are such that it seems that democracy was never born in Kashmir. However, the genuine answer to this latter question is, yes, democracy was born in Kashmir considering the huge participation of people in the elections that were held in the past and their expectations that their issues and problems would be solved and resolved. Hence, democracy was born in Kashmir, like in the rest of the subcontinent, may be not in the form it ought to have been but it surely was born.
With the accession of the state with the Indian state, which the majority took it as temporary, the people trusted their leaders and supported them in every possible way. They thought that the leaders would address all their problems including the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute. They further thought and believed that the democratic means are best capable of finding solutions to all their problems. Therefore, it was duty bound on the leaders to raise the credibility of the democratic process and gain the trust of the people towards the democratic means of governance. The people should have been assured and demonstrated that what they trust and believe can really be achieved by following the democratic process. This process should have been proved as the panacea to deal with all the issues and problems of the people and the state. But the leaders took a turn which was in complete opposite direction; they betrayed the people, the state and the democratic processes. Instead of working for the people and upholding the democratic credentials and fundamental all that leaders did, and are still doing, was to rob from the democratic form of the government the trust of the people. They dented and damaged this form of government in the state, particularly the Kashmir Division, to the extent that people eventually felt dejected and desperate to act in ways that are not in sync with this form of government.
Fast forward to 2018 the condition is that majority of seats for the Urban Local Body Election either remained vacant or where the winners were declared without any elections and in the rest the percentage of the votes failed to touch even double figure mark. Before this the elections to the Anantnag Parliamentary Seat could not be held and the percentage of votes polled for the Srinagar-Budgam Parliamentary Seat was pathetically low. This condition is part of a progressive, or regressive, decrease of the interest of the people in democratic process in the region. The majority of the people are of the view that with their participation or without that the results for them are going to stay the same and their conditions are going to stay the same. All the promises made with the people have been broken, the manifestoes were never implemented, schemes and policies remained on paper only or were not carried forward to cover the genuine beneficiaries and target groups. And, the biggest betrayal was committed with the people in respect of the main Kashmir dispute. Instead of bringing about resolution of this dispute, there is only irresolution and indecision. These leaders have never stopped to talk big and make talk claims. In the helplessness and hopelessness of people they find opportunities to get serve their ends, in the distress of the people they find ways to fill their coffers and in the pain and privations of the people power and only power is tried to be gained. They sell, and have been selling, dreams which were never given a practical shape. Thereby taking away all the credibility from the democracy and never allowed it to get a semblance of true democracy. These leaders, politicians and the people in power know that they have never delivered what they promised; they know that they have been failures in serving the people. For this to cover they have a readymade answer. The answer is not only used by the politicians of the state but the people holding reins of government at the central level use it more oftener. They answer is that the militancy and the threat perception are the reasons behind the pathetically low percentage of the voters in the elections and the disinterest and apathy of the people towards the democratic process.
The reality and reason behind giving this answer, it is reiterated, is directed only to evade the responsibility and take sight away from their failures. In the garb of militancy and disturbed conditions these leaders have played havoc with democracy, democratic processes and institutions in the state. They never allowed the people, who were genuinely interested in the welfare of the people, to get established on the political landscape of the state and act in the best interests of the ruled. All the foul and fabricated means were used to topple those leaders who were for democracy. Some were incarcerated, others involved in fake cases and still others prevented by rigging the elections. In nutshell, all that suited to the interests of the marauders of democratic process was used to the fullest without given a thought to the result that their acts would bring. There were greater threats at other times in the past, why was voter percentage not so low? The people braved all those threats and participated simply because there was some trust with the democracy and democratic ways. Today all the trust is gone and people are no more interested to get befooled any more. Otherwise, three hundred odd gun wielding untrained men are simply incapable to stop a population of more than five million people from voting if the population was benefited anyhow by following the democratic process in the past. In the elections to the Srinagar Parliamentary Seat almost no militancy related incident can be held responsible for the low percentage of votes, there are reasons beyond militancy and violence which the politicians remain always in denial about. The same can be said about the recently concluded Urban Local Body Elections, people stayed away from them out of their own volition and choice. Even in the places where the strike call given by the Joint Resistance Leadership was rejected the people stayed away from the voting.
No doubt the boycott call of the separatists is a reason but people would have easily defied that had they anyway believed that the process is going to ease out the predicament in which the state is. They know the ends of the staged election process are to entertain the audiences beyond the borders and confines of the state and not to address the issues and problems of the people. If we take the militancy and the threat perception away for a moment what are the contributions of the people who have ruled the state since 1947? The first contribution – contribution by their standards – is to sabotage the democratic process by using all the antidemocratic, and anti people, means to gain power. Their second contribution is to allow corruption to grow roots in the administration and let it grow to the mammoth size that it has today. Their third contribution is to rob genuine people from the employment opportunities and give that to the undeserving. Their forth contribution is to make the disobedience of the law a rule and an accepted norm. Their fifth contribution is to end all the self sufficiency and self reliance of the state and turn her into a beggar state. Their sixth contribution is to surrender all the sources and resources of the in lieu of some paltry gains. Their seventh contribution is to make the supreme rights of human a casualty every time there is a clash between ultra nationalism and the genuine aspirations of the people. Their eighth contribution is to make the state one of the most unsafe and dangerous place not only in the subcontinent but in the entire world. Their ninth contribution is to keep the powerless perpetually powerless and never disturb the power of the powerful. And, their tenth contribution is to make the state the biggest garrisoned place and of unending funerals and mourning. In short, in every area of life and governance they have a contribution and the contribution eventually leads in the disruption of the democratic process in Kashmir.
The conditions have gone so low now that the government of the day takes credit, and celebrates, in mere holding the Urban Local Bodies Elections, they take credit even when the percentage is as low as naught and the number of candidates for many seats is also naught! The parties which won in the elections – don’t know what and with the help of what – are in celebration mode and the amazing thing is that they are receiving accolades from the Prime Minister of the Country. Imagine a candidate who got 8 votes out of 9 polled is being congratulated by the Prime Minister of the largest democracy of the world. Is this not the mockery of the democratic process? Now comes the question asked at the outset, is democracy dead in Kashmir. If remaining away of more than 90% voters is not dead then what else can be death of democracy, irrespective of reasons? Whatever the reasons and whatever the threat perceptions, there are institutions in the government which are duty bound to ensure the participation of the people in the elections, and election processes. They have to make conditions conducive for the people to freely express their wishes. In case they fail to ensure that, holding elections under such circumstances is a death of democracy. If these institutions really are serious about their roles it becomes imperative upon them to stop thrusting everything on militancy and disturbed conditions of the law and order. They must try to serve the basics of democracy and ensure building the fundamentals of the democracy. They must stop guarding the people who have damaged the bases of democracy in Kashmir and who have decimated the level of trust that the people of Kashmir had on democracy. If this low percentage of votes, and boycott of elections, is not an eye opener, nothing else can be. We might say that the democracy in Kashmir is still breathing and there some hopes left but if the trend continues, the next stage is only that of death, the death of democracy. The Indian state, the government in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the politicians of the state, and the country, should realize the urgency of the matter and act in a way favorable to democracy.
Democracy, and democratic means, is ideally capable of dealing with all the issues, from global to regional and from regional to local. So these means should be used to deal with all the problems that the people of the state face. The problems include that of the armed struggle, militancy can only when the aspirations of the youth and their voices are heard without compelling them to take up arms. In case democracy and the institutions of democratic form of government work for the betterment and benefits of the popular sovereign, no threat or problem is beyond its scope that democracy cannot take care of. Time is to realize that there are problems with the way democracy has been tried to be established in the state and there is problem with the people who head the institutions of the democracy. On the day this is realized people will return to the democratic process and respect the democratic institutions and leaders. The leaders in turn will act as per the real and genuine aspirations of the people. If the current trend continues, and the politicians and parties of the state fail to take corrective measures, and stop repeating the past mistakes, the forthcoming Parliamentary Elections and that of the state legislature might see even no participation of people, if they are held at all. Above all, it will dent the relation of the ruled with their rulers even further to the point of no return. A wake up call it should be.
All the promises made with the people have been broken, the manifestoes were never implemented, schemes and policies remained on paper only or were not carried forward to cover the genuine beneficiaries and target groups. And, the biggest betrayal was committed with the people in respect of the main Kashmir dispute. Instead of bringing about resolution of this dispute, there is only irresolution and indecision. These leaders have never stopped to talk big and make talk claims
Democracy, and democratic means, is ideally capable of dealing with all the issues, from global to regional and from regional to local. So these means should be used to deal with all the problems that the people of the state face. The problems include that of the armed struggle, militancy can only when the aspirations of the youth and their voices are heard without compelling them to take up arms.
In case democracy and the institutions of democratic form of government work for the betterment and benefits of the popular sovereign, no threat or problem is beyond its scope that democracy cannot take care of.