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Sham democracy

December 06, 2018


The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist.
The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist.

THE dissolution of the India-held Kashmir assembly by Governor Satya Pal Malik has once again brought to the fore how farcical democracy in the conflict-ridden state is, and where actual power lies. The development took place months after the BJP pulled out of the coalition with the People’s Democratic Party. Malik dissolved the assembly after the PDP staked a claim to form the government with the help of the National Conference and Congress.

Sajjad Lone of the People’s Conference, a BJP ally, said he had also written to Malik to say he could form the government with the help of the BJP and 18 legislators from other parties including five rebels from the PDP.

The assembly remained in suspended animation because the BJP was trying to cobble together a new coalition with the help of Lone, and the rebels from the PDP. It was hoping to lure more lawmakers from other parties including the PDP. Then the rivals — PDP, NC and Congress — came together to checkmate the BJP. The move took the BJP and Lone by surprise. That’s when Malik used his powers to dissolve the assembly and salvage the situation for the BJP. His justification was that the formation of government by political rivals wasn’t in Kashmir’s interest.

The mandate of IHK politicians is only to speak about roads, power and water.

The subtext of Malik’s decision was evident. That he had acted on behalf of Delhi to ward off an embarrassing situation for the BJP by the grand alliance needed no explanation. It’s not the first time that New Delhi has used the governor to unsettle an unfriendly political equation in IHK.

In 1984, Jagmohan Malhotra dismissed the Farooq Abdullah-led NC government and appointed G.M. Shah, his brother-in-law, as chief minister with the help of Congress.

In 1990, when militancy gained currency, Farooq Abdullah resigned after the V.P. Singh-led centre appointed Jagmohan Malhotra as governor for the second time, without consulting him.

Malik’s action rekindled the debate about the sham democracy in IHK, and how New Delhi uses it to cloak the larger issue of Kashmir. The emergence of the PDP in the late 1990s had helped in creating a middle ground between the NC and pro-freedom polity. The party played a key role in shaping the middle ground by sympathising with those at the receiving end of India’s muscular policy.

Mehbooba’s summary dismissal in essence is the continuation of policies that New Delhi has used since 1947 to control Kashmir. In 1953, 73 members of the Sheikh Abdullah-led NC were elected unopposed in the legislative assembly. But the very next day, he had no support. This happened when the party adopted an anti-Delhi stance, which resonates with the people. Sheikh was dethroned and bundled into jail. Elections were manipulated in 1965 when Delhi installed Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. He got the support of 65 members who were also elected unopposed.

In the 1987-88 polls, the Muslim United Front, a loose coalition of parties opposing Indian rule, was on the verge of winning the polls. However, Indian intelligence agencies along with police and paramilitary forces resorted to mass rigging, giving birth to one of the world’s longest-running armed insurgency.

It has now become clear that democracy is just a facade in IHK. It has been indiscriminately employed to muddy the political narrative of Kashmir at international fora. Delhi continues to term its intense armed forces operations to deal with a ‘law-and-order problem’, not the one against people demanding right to self-determination. Whenever asked to fulfil this demand, Delhi has referred to pro-Indian politicians as ‘elected leaders’, who it claims are the ‘genuine representatives of Kashmir’ and are happy with the Indian union.

And when these very pro-Indian politicians outlive their utility, they are either sidelined or completely binned. The role of unionists and their leaders thus has been reduced to that of a civic committee. Their mandate is only to speak about roads, power and water. The bait of democracy has been used by India to tame dissent and discredit people seeking political rights.

Take for example, the case of activist Irom Sharmila from Manipur state, who fasted for 16 years against the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act that provides a legal cover to the army from prosecution with the centre’s consent. She was persuaded to contest elections and end her fast, despite her well-wishers warning against it. She lost the election, became history, and is now detested by her own people for ‘compromising’ with Delhi.

Delhi has been repeatedly asking the Hurriyat Conference leaders to contest local elections and prove their representational character. It has always lent credibility to the ‘electoral politics’ in Kashmir by presenting it as the ‘panacea’ for all political problems. If so, then why was Mehbooba, who won a mandate from the people, denied her constitutional right to stake a claim in government formation?

The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2018