J&K: Political discontent and role of elections

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Representational Image. People queue up for casting votes in Kashmir

The political discontent that has manifested itself in Jammu and Kashmir in post 1989 period is in many ways related to the failure of democracy and democratic institutions in this part of the world. It is in the failure of democratic politics to nstitutionalize itself that the grievances of people of Jammu and Kashmir had registered including those related to the making and unmaking of the state governments without a reference to the popular preferences and sustenance by the centre government of unpopular political regimes. The absence of democratic space, the suppression of dissent and discontent by using democratic institutions leads to the feeling of alienation among the people. The manipulation of electoral process also describes the poor functioning of democracy and democratic institutions in Jammu and Kashmir.

In 1951 the Constituent Assembly elections were held in the state, National Conference swept the polls by winning all 75 seats, of which 73 were uncontested, as the result less than five percent voters cast their votes. The Praja Parishad, the Jammu based rightist political party boycotted the elections in protest against large scale rejection of nomination papers of its candidates. Thus, the assembly which was established to provide the future course to the nature and relationship of the State of Jammu and Kashmir with rest of India, somehow, initiate the process of creating political vacuum in Jammu and Kashmir. Commenting on the electoral malpractices P.S.Verma has said, “The post election scenario in 1951 clearly revealed that the unopposed returns were neither desired by the voters nor did the opposition groups ever reconcile to them.” In 1957 elections, only a weak opposition emerged and that too primarily from the Jammu region. The process of unopposed returns which started in 1951 continued in 1957.This time out of 75 seats 43 was unopposed. The elections were boycotted by the Plebiscite Front. The National Conference contested the elections with a manifesto based on ‘New Kashmir’. It got 68 out of 75 seats with 57.4%of votes polled, while the Praja Parishad got 5 seats with 24.6% of the votes. The opposition later charged the government of using unfair means to get the majority.

The elections of 1962 and 1967 were also termed as to be widely manipulated. After the declaration of the results of 1962 elections the then Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru wrote to Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad that, “it would strengthen your position much more if you lost a few seats to bonfire opponents”. In those elections National Conference won 70 seats while 33 candidates were elected unopposed and secured 67.0%of votes, Praja Parishad got 17.5% votes and won 3 seats, the independents won 2 seats with 7.4% of votes. However, the 1967 elections saw the arrival of Congress Party in the political front of the State. It won 61seats with 53.0% out of 58.8% votes polled. The National Conference got 8 seats with 17.1% votes, Jan Sangh 3 seats with 16.5% votes and independents 3 seats with 8.6% votes. Meanwhile the Plebiscite Front was banned in 1969 and disqualified from taking part in any of the elections in the State.

In the fifth Assembly elections of the state in 1972, again there was no opposition and the Indian National Congress got the majority. The votes polled in the election were 66.3%. The Indian National Congress won 58 seats with 55.4% votes; the Bharatiya Janata Party 3 seats with 9.8% votes; the Jamat-e-Islami won 5 seats with 7.2% votes, and independents got 9 seats with 26.8 % votes. But in 1975 after the “Kashmir Accord” between Sheikh Abdullah and the then Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi National Conference was revived and Sheikh Abdullah came to power again. Later, in 1977 Sheikh Abdullah lost no-confidence motion against his government laid by the Indian National Congress.

The 1977 elections, however, termed as one of the most fair and democratic elections held in Jammu and Kashmir have some different reasons for being it so. People had a sense of participation in these elections. There was a keen contest between the National Conference and other parties including the Janata party and Congress. The total seats in the assembly were increased by delimitation from 75 to 76. The National Conference led by Sheikh Abdullah won 47 of the 76 seats getting 46.2 % of votes. Janata party won 13 with 23.7%of votes, The Indian National Congress won 11 seats with 16.9% votes, Jan Sangh rebels got 4 seats with 9.5 % votes and Jamat-i-Islami won 1 seat with 3.6 %votes.

Elections in 1983 were again swept by NC because of the sympathy wave due to the death of Sher-I-Kashmir Mohd. Sheikh Abdullah. The NC led by Dr. Farooq Abdullah came to power after winning a majority with 46 seats. It secured 47.3% votes out of 73.2% of total votes polled. The Congress won 26 seats getting 30.3 % votes, People’s Conference and the Panthers Party won one seat each with 4.6 % of votes and 2 seats being won by independents that got 5.1 % votes.

 

But, the 1987 elections really proved to be the turning point in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. During and after the elections people witnessed a drastic decline of democratic institutions and democratic values in the state. It was actually that election which is believed to have ignited the militancy in the state with the much-criticized Farooq Abdullah-Rajiv Gandhi agreement, foregoing a supposedly rigged poll. In 1987, manipulation of institutions and rigging was composed with the arrest of defeated candidates which added to the woes of the people. The Congress and the National Conference formed an alliance. The coalition parties swept the polls by winning 63 seats in which the National Conference got 32.99% and Congress (I) 20.2 % of votes. The BJP won 2 seats, Muslim Front Party (MUF) 4 and independents won 4 seats.  1987 assembly elections have coerced the democratic space and had become medium for expansion of separatism in the state. The fear of a rigged election has very badly affected the reliability of the state in providing for a fair democracy in the past. Later, in 1996, elections were held for 87 Legislative Assembly seats The National Conference contested in 81 seats and won 57 securing 34.7 %. The BJP won 8 seats and got 12.1% of votes; the Congress got 7 and secured 20.0 % of votes. But 1996 elections also widely regarded with suspicion, due to reports of coercion by the Indian military forces.

 

However the 2002 election was one of the most significant elections in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. It was termed as the fairest of all. In 2002 it was very important for the central government to conduct the credible elections in the state and show the world that the charges laid by the secessionist groups about the credibility of electoral system is just a reason to leave out the whole process.

 

One of the reasons for the alienation of the people of Jammu and Kashmir from the mainstream politics was therefore the result of distorted electoral process. The Indian state considered that building Indian nationalism in Jammu and Kashmir is more important than strengthen up of democratic institutions. As Balraj Puri describes, “A democracy that functioned fairly well led to greater integration but in Kashmir the Central government has given priority to nation building process over democracy.” Continuous intervention by the central government widened the gap between democratic aspirations of the people and functioning of the democratic institutions in the state. Political responses from opposition were either not allowed to rise or dealt severely by the political elite. The opposition was not allowed to emerge. Except few instances, Jammu and Kashmir witnessed the rule of one party. The hegemony of one party, manipulation of democratic institutions, denial of democracy, continuous intervention by the centre government, however made the platform for the demand of political unit separated from the Indian union. According to Sumit Ganguly, “The insurgency in Kashmir is the result of a fundamental paradox of Indian democracy. Kashmir represents both the success of mobilization and simultaneously, the institutional failure of Indian democracy.” The policies of the government only mobilize the people politically but they have done nothing to strengthen the process of democracy and democratic institutions in Kashmir, they however, supported the external factors to alienate the Kashmiris from rest of India.

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