Source: Greater Kashmir online.
Source: Greater Kashmir online.
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?
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.