The Poll In Kashmir

6 June 2014
The Dawn
A. G. Noorani

Mumbai: THE results of the elections to the six Lok Sabha seats in Jammu & Kashmir are as meaningful as those outside it. They reflect a deep communal divide between the Kashmir Valley and Jammu and Ladakh and a popular revulsion towards the ruling party, the National Conference, and the centre's plant, the Congress, which has no roots at all in the Valley. The days of the NC-Congress coalition, headed by Omar Abdullah, are numbered. Farooq Abdullah was defeated for the first time in his life. General elections to the legislative assembly are due only a few months away before the year ends. Of the six seats in J&K, the BJP won two in Jammu and one in Ladakh. The People's Democratic Party, led by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, bagged all three seats in the Valley. Farooq Abdullah was convincingly defeated in Srinagar. The PDP established a lead in as many as 39 assembly seat segments. The NC maintained its lead in five while two independents, who lost in the parliamentary elections, secured a lead in their respective assembly segments in the parliamentary constituencies. The valley has a total of 46 seats in the assembly. The Congress' candidate Ghulam Nabi Azad, a union minister with a past also lost. In the Valley, Congress is a house divided and the NC-Congress alliance threatens to fall apart. The NC was bitter at the fact that its candidates received little or no support from the Congress. Saifuddin Soz's remarks in Srinagar on May 16 will serve only to widen the cleavage. There was, he said, 'a deep hatred against the National Conference prevalent in the Valley that has given the PDP three seats'. This precluded transfer of the Congress' votes to its ally the NC. That 'hatred' is unlikely to be transformed into affection a mere four to five months later in the assembly elections. The Congress at the centre will be of little help now that it has lost power. The central agencies which rendered timely help in 2008 will not do so now. Abdullah is out of power for the first time since the rigged elections of 1996 and the sheen, which was fast wearing off, is gone. Omar Abdullah has nothing but his own dismal record as chief minister to fall back on. He has been in office as chief minister for six long years. Immature, he frittered the opportunity by utter neglect of his duties as head of government; by boorish behaviour to all and sundry including ministers, civil servants and party men; and by a conspicuous preference for the good life. It is one of the quirks of the democratic process that people tend to overlook flaws in the leader so long as he is perceived to care for them. Likewise the party puts up with a lot so long as the leader performs as a vote-getter. Omar Abdullah has failed totally and made matters worse by arrogant and petulant statements. The coordinator of the J&K Coalition of Civil Society, an organisation which has rendered yeoman services, recalled last month that 'from 2008 [when Omar Abdullah became chief minister] cases have been filed against 10,000 youths for taking part in protests or stone-throwing. In the past many years these youths have been brutalised or humiliated, but Omar was least bothered. Now after their electoral debacle he is trying to take corrective steps so that he can retain power for the next term'. He was referring to Farooq and Omar Abdullah's moves for amnesty after the electoral debacle. It is unlikely that another issue which the BJP's newly elected M.P. Jitendra Singh raised will help. As minister of state in the Modi government he renewed the cry for abrogation of Article 370 of India's constitution. Omar Abdullah sensed an opportunity to win popular applause and responded angrily. The PDP and all others in Kashmir opposed the move. Article 370 is the only link between the Union of India and Jammu & Kashmir. Its abrogation will result in snapping the link. It is constitutionally impossible to do so. But by sheer abuse of the article some 47 executive orders were made from 1954 to 1994 which reduced Kashmir's autonomy to a husk. The malaise is far deeper than what this abuse or the electoral debacle reveals. It is the people's alienation. A leading figure in the PR industry reported last month, after one of his annual trips to Kashmir, 'Till the time the average Kashmiri refers to us as Indian we would have failed in our attempt to integrate them with us'. Like everyone else he did not care to ask why 63 years did not suffice. The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.