Category Archives: Elections

The day before

Srinagar, 23 December 2008

Srinagar

Tomorrow the last round of state assembly elections are taking place in and around Srinagar, as well as in 13 constituencies in Jammu and Samba districts. The Kashmir Observer reports on little enthusiasm among the local population, mainly due to the intensive presence of the the military, anti-election protests and recurrent instances of violence.

Yesterday, the authorities once again inforced restrictions as anti-election protesters had thrown stones and brick on security forces. Unrest has also been reported in Sopore town in Baramulla, where suspected militants shot dead two police men. So far noone has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

As this election is the greatest opportunity for Kashmiris to gain political agency, it is a shame that it is wasted on violence and curfews. Acknowledging the voices for independence, democracy is currently the safest way to achieving justice and equality within the state.

The politics of an election

The politics of an election

Source: Greater Kashmir online.

“We want Azadi and we will fight for it till our last breath”

So, the third round of State Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir has gone through. The Indian government reported a pretty high turnout, with 79% in Karnah constituency as the highest and 53.56% in Langate as the lowest. All figures, except Langate – which remained the same-. were higher than in 2002. But one may wonder how accurate these figures are. Allegations of fixed elections or tampered voting results are frequent in Kashmir. Also, often people have been forced out of their homes to vote, sometimes even under gunpoint.

In the constituency of Trehgam the Indian army attacked and abused a large crowd of women protesting against the elections and for independence. When the police cornered the group and snatched their banners, the crowd responded with stone-throwing, which exaggerated the protests. Yet, despite the violent abuse by the policemen, the anti-election protestors managed to get their voices heard, as the queues to the voting booths dispersed.

In Greater Kashmir these voices were cited.

Khalida: “We want Azadi and we will fight for it till our last breath. Voting will do us no good…”

Abdul Hameed: “We support the call given by CC and we would not cast our vote come what may. We have gathered here to see the people who come out to vote ignoring the sacrifices that Kashmiris have made all these years … All these years we have seen what Indian government is all about but every Kashmiri should understand that by casting the vote they are playing into the hands of India…”

But some other people regarded the voting as an important part of the democratisation and development process of the state.

Kaiser Malik: “I have been casting vote since I became eligible for voting. It is necessary to elect the representative who would work for our development. But this does not mean we don’t want Azadi.”

Sara: “We vote because we don’t want the same people to win again. They have ignored us all these years…”

And as the curfew is still imposed, despite some local clashes as those described above the Kashmir Valley has generally remained quiet. Policemen are stationed around Srinagar to keep people inside their houses. There were complaints about people not being allowed outside to buy milk and bread. Obviously Delhi fears more attacks after last week’s tragic rampage in Mumbai, both from militant Islamic groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and from secular or moderate pro-freedom orgainsations such as The Jammu and Kashmir Coordination Committee and Hurriyat.

However, one may wonder how far democracy can pushed in order for democracy to remain?

“Real” curfews this time

After announcements by the leaders of the two sections of the Hurriyat, Geelani and Farroq, about anti-elections protests after Friday prayers, the Indian establishment decided on official curfew around the state today. This was allegedly to preserve “law and order” from the threat of separatists. But, one can speculate in whether, after the attacks in Mumbai, the government is now afraid that Kashmir will see similar disaster. We don’t know whether they expect copycats or simply a follow-up attack in the paradise state, but one can assume Delhi is on high alert at the moment.

Democracy vs. Independence?

The leader of the pro-India party the National Conference, Dr Farooq, told journalisits of The Greater Kashmir that he was happy that Pakistan, the United Jihad Council and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen had not interfered. He highlighted the fact that the NC stood for good governance and the separatists for indepence – two facts that are not incompatible.

I would agree with Dr Farooq: good governance and independece are not two opposite poles. Democracy, human rights and cease-fire are essential for the empowerment and improvement of the quality of life of the Kashmiri people.

But, there seem to be more than approval of elections that keep the separatist groups quiet this time. The leaders of the Jammu-Kashmir Coordination Committee, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Sajad Ghani Lone and Bilal Ghani Lone, have been kept under house arrest the last week. For the Indian Government it has been a crucial policy to keep the anti-election voices silent in order to produce a high turnout.

Clearly this brings us back to the discussion about democracy that is as old as democracy itself – what to do with undemocratic forces in a democratic system? And as the pro-independence groups in Kashmir (well, the most of them at least) are not against democracy per se, but only objects to the Indian-administered democracy (with or without airquotes), it becomes even more confusing.

First round of elections

Yesterday the Indian-administered state elections started in the Kashmir Valley. The Kashmir Coordination Committee had called for a boycott of the polls, and a turnout of 64% in the 10 constituencies was reported. There has been complaints reported to the police about scuffle, threats and booth capturing, as well as destruction of electronic voting appliances, mainly in Bandipora in North Kashmir.

Also the curfew imposed last week was continued, with cities all over the valley being closed down. One local explained to Dawn newspaper that they couldn’t even go outside to clear away some of the snow that had been falling last week. The Indian Army, on the other hand, claimed that the curfew was necessary to retain “law and order”.