Why should Kashmiris boycott elections ?

Idris Bhat demonstrates why the upcoming assembly elections in Kashmir are a political irony in the face of the history of deceit and brutality (on the part of the ruling authorities) that is etched in the psyche of almost every Kashmiri …

It would be difficult in winter to come out of homes to vote. The cold will damage us while we stand in queues leading to the polling booths. Rather, we should stay inside; we should sip cups of nun chai, listen to Sufi music, and indulge reveries of freedom for Kashmir.

Some people will oppose why I am using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. My reply to that is: this ‘we’ denotes a collective: people of Jammu and Kashmir who are struggling for their right to be free from decades, even centuries. These people should know I am talking about the farce of elections in Jammu and Kashmir which are going to be held by the Election Commission of India. It is contradictory to hold elections in Kashmir that has been denied the right to determine its political future. The history of elections in Kashmir is a history of fraud and force that began with imprisonment of Shiekh Abdullah, a friend of Nehru, when he demanded Greater Autonomy and threatened to opt for Independence if Greater Autonomy was not granted. They found collaborators in the form of Bakshi Gulam Mohammad and his cliques and annulled the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir. Then they continued with all sorts of legal and political maneuverings to subjugate the people. When their diabolical techniques were challenged by arms, they contained and brutalised us with an organised system of violence.

They know all this for sure. They are our oppressors. We are tired of telling all this to the world. We have lost thousands of lives, hundreds were raped, thousands became orphans and widows, thousands are still missing, and almost all the population is psychologically damaged. It is this history of subjugation and oppression that is in my mind when I say that this winter we should boycott Indian elections in Kashmir.

But there are people who will again confuse us and ask to vote. They will convince us with their arguments if they don’t ask the soldiers to drag us out of our homes and vote. When I think of such people, I am reminded of Greeks. I see them as Sophists, Cynics, and Demagogues. In fact they are three in one. Before we are lured by their rabble-rousing again, we should resolve to defeat them. We should stay inside convinced and firm of our reverie.

The Sophists among them will tell us that the boycott is not going to help us because some of us will still vote and a government will anyway be formed. So don’t waste your vote and try to safeguard your interests, they would argue. Nonsense. I reject this and I understand it as a tautology.  Rather we should enhance our political reasoning by saying that if none of us would vote no government will be formed. They will still do something to claim Kashmir whether through governors appointed directly by New Delhi or can use military to force us to vote. We should not fear that and should rather imagine a situation: empty polling booths. It will bring shame to this so called largest democracy of the world and send a message to the world. It will defeat the so called claim that people of Jammu and Kashmir have voted and hence India’s rule is legitimate.

The Cynics among them will tell us that freedom is a chimera. Like the interlocutors who were appointed by Manmohan Singh to ask people of Jammu and Kashmir what they wanted, the Cynics will repeat the same things: after all, what do you mean by aazadi? How can you live free when you are surrounded by China, India and Pakistan? They are three mighty nuclear nations. Come on! They will exclaim. You are a small population.

They will demoralise us by all these cynical questions and belittle the sanctity of our struggle. They don’t care about ideals of justice and freedom. But we should be careful and understand that their cynicism comes from a wrong understanding of history. They will never tell this that human conflicts are constructed by certain people who benefit from them. They themselves benefit from this conflict—people on both sides of conflict have interests. We have to understand this and refuse to serve their interests. We can do that only by refusing to vote. It would be symbolic as well as real.

The most dangerous of them, the Demagogues, will impress us more by saying that he seeks votes for running day-to-day administration. He will promise good governance, development, jobs and all the words capitalists’ blabbers. He will anaesthetise us by intensifying our desires. In this election particularly, ‘development’ will be the most used word as Mr. Modi has become India’s Prime Minister through this magic word. He has experimented with this magic formula in Gujarat. This is difficult to reject as it is what we desire. But we should look at history again and see that they have actually done nothing. The roads are same, forests are thinning day by day, lakes are getting polluted more and more, unemployment is increasing and they are making more and more money. If that does not convince us, we should look around, at the military camps. They are on the mountains, inside the forests, in villages, in cities, in temples, and outside every Kashmiri home. They are a killing machine whose operating procedure is AFSPA:  a law that gives exceptional power to the army to shoot anyone on mere grounds of suspicion and for any aberration they cannot be tried in civil courts.

When such laws prevail, elections are a rude joke. On one side there are armed soldiers who can kill anyone. On the other hand, they want us to vote to justify their military backed ‘democratic’ rule in Kashmir.

The demagogue will also confuse us by saying that he will try to solve the Kashmir dispute. He will act like National Conference, a political party which is telling us the Greater Autonomy is the solution as if Pakistan Controlled Kashmir and Chinese Controlled Kashmir do not exist.  We should recall history and remember what the founder of National Conference Mr. Abdullah did in 1970s when he agreed that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. He did all this to safeguard the chair for his son and insure his family’s interests. We should add to this what his grandson promised and did. He imprisoned thousands of kids because they pelted stones on the soldiers. Ignore that he could not convince his masters in Delhi that AFSPA shall be scrapped.

The demagogue will be anything like Peoples Democratic Party and its patron Mufti Mohd Sayid. He will also say self-rule is the only solution. We should be careful and understand that he was once the Home Minister of India. He is known as the man of all parties. Imagine he could be anything. That is very dangerous. If he is given power, self-rule can become anything. Even he showed that when his party along with his coalition partner Congress tried to grant land to Amaranth Shrine Board in 2008. That time we successfully resisted such maneuverings and made them to renounce power. We have to repeat that.

A new demagogue has come up: Peoples Conference. Its head Sajjad Lone says Kashmir’s solution is in Achievable Nationhood. He is there this time to contest massively. He even met India’s Prime Minister and called him his big brother. Though his father made a great sacrifice but he is hell-bent on confusing us to vote. He has contradictions but we should not be influenced by them.

For all these parties—NC, PDP and PC— we should be thankful for using the term Kashmir Dispute in their election campaigns. I think Election Commission of India has not taken notice of such language. Otherwise they would have banned these parties on being anti-national.

Jokes apart, we know that their promise of solving Kashmir dispute is a bunch of empty words. In fact they are trying to fill their pockets. I don’t have to talk of immense benefits that those who are in power receive. All of us are aware of those facts. I don’t have to talk of nepotism and favoritism.. We have to be careful of talking in Kashmir. Remember Public Security Act, anyone who spreads public disaffection can be imprisoned without trial. The age limit starts from 14. Disaffection means shouting slogans of aazadi, talking against corruption, pelting stone at heavily guarded Indian forces even if they rape or shoot anyone, and so on.

Now that I have said enough about this three-in-one demon, I think it is a great opportunity to seek justice for ourselves and end this six decade long history of subjugation. We can refuse to vote on grounds that we can only vote if we are allowed to determine our political future that has been promised by the United Nations. Then we can also press a demand for demilitarisation in all the three Kashmirs and hope for a spring in the valley without one million Indian forces and no line of control. We can then draw lines of love, solidarity and justice. I know like bearing winter it would be difficult to boycott this election.  But then we have to in order to blossom in spring, a season of life and freedom.

Idris Bhat is a Phd student in Jawaharlal Nehru University. His area of research is Political Philosophy.

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