Mainstream Parties Cause of Electoral Disenchantment

1 August 2019

In Kashmir Valley, the young do not vote. On election day, they remain at home or congregate at street corners to prevent others from voting. Towns and villages wear a deserted look with the soldiers guarding polling stations and a few brave voters trickling through.

This indicates a total distrust of the electoral process and democracy as it is practised in the Kashmir Valley. In contrast, the people of Jammu and Ladakh region are hugely enthusiastic about voting and their democratic rights. The question therefore is: what went wrong in the Kashmir Valley? What is the root of this disenchantment with democratic practices?

Oddly enough, the blame rests squarely on the so-called mainstream political parties of the state who have consistently betrayed the thrust of their supporters. In order to grasp power and the reins of government the Valley's politicians have used all means, fair and foul.

The decline of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) led my Mehbooba Mufti is illustrative of the way the Valley's young voters have been befooled. Ms Mufti, daughter of the seasoned Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who passed away in January 2016, made out to champion the cause of the Valley when actually she was solely interested in grabbing power.

After assuming his mantle, Ms Mufti chose a policy of what is sometimes called “soft” separatism. She appeared to pander to the separatist cause and commiserated with militants. She made out that she was a crusader against all the machinations of New Delhi. She swore to keep out the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates away from the Valley and proclaimed herself political saviour of all Kashmiris.

Yet when it came to the crunch, she had no hesitation in joining hands with the BJP to form the government in the state. In other words, hers' was a policy of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. Such a hypocritical approach was bound to end in disaster and when the BJP found her policies ineffective in ending discontent in the Valley, the coalition collapsed. Worse, it was clear that Ms Mufti instead of dissipating dissent had often found it more expedient to actually fan it.

The extent of youthful disenchantment was evident. She had won the June 2016 assembly elections with a record margin but in the very same seat three years later (in the Lok Sabha polls) hardly anyone voted. Ms Mufti who stood as the parliamentary candidate was badly defeated by Justice Masoodi, the National Conference candidate. The youth had suffered another blow with this development as they now felt they could trust no mainstream politician. The only recourse left to them was the gun.

Not surprisingly today the PDP is slowly disintegrating with many top leaders as well as grassroots workers deserting the party. The extent of the rot was evident on the day of the grand Foundation Day celebrations organised by Ms Mufti, Significantly, a slew of top leaders including PDP Patron muzzfar hussain Baigh, former ministers Mohammad Dilawar Mir, Nayeem Akhter , Ab Haq Khan, two Rajya Sabha members Mir Fayaz Ahmad, Nazir Ahmad Laway, Safeena Beigh, Saif ud Din , Mohammad Yasir Reshi and some others stayed away. The displeasure was obvious.

The PDP is not the only party that has let down the young eligible voters in the Valley. The process of disenchantment started was back in the 1960s, starting with the flip-flop in policies regarding the National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, once known as the Lion of Kashmir.

Initially, Sheikh Abdullah had befriended India's first Prime Minister Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru and chosen to pledge allegiance to the secular republic of India. Later, in 1953 it was found that he was secretly conspiring to secure Jammu & Kashmir state's independence from India.

The discovery of this betrayal shocked the elected rulers of India and the Sheikh was imprisoned for treason, which is a very serious charge and can even invite the death penalty. However, here too politics overcame principles.

In April 1964, eleven years after his arrest, all cases were dropped against Sheikh Abdullah, who returned to a hero's welcome in the Kashmir Valley. The Sheikh's release was due to the fact that Pundit Nehru wanted him to broker a deal with Pakistan on account of international pressure and Indian weakness post the disastrous 1962 India-China war.

Prime Minister Nehru however died while the Sheikh was negotiating with Pakistan and the talks between the two countries broke down and in 1965 the two countries again went to war over Kashmir.

The Indian government cynically again threw the Sheikh behind bars in 1965 only to release him once again 18 months later. In 1974, the Sheikh entered into an opportunistic alliance with the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi, under which he abandoned the idea of plebiscite and self-determination for Kashmir. He won the elections next year and served two terms as chief minister of the state.

After his death in 1982, his son Dr Farooq Abdullah inherited the political dynasty created by his father. Dr Farooq won the 1983 polls and there was great enthusiasm all around. However, his rule was a disaster and anti-India forces fuelled by the growing hatred of the mainstream National Conference started rising. This resulted in the formation of the Muslim United Front (MUF) before the 1987 state elections.

It is said that Dr Farooq was worried about losing the elections and therefore resorted to massive rigging. MUF candidates who should have won were not only defeated but many were arrested or beaten up. Not surprisingly, the youth in Kashmir Valley were totally disenchanted by the electoral process and began to join the armed struggle which broke out in full two years after the 1987 polls.

Farooq Abdullah abandoned the Kashmir Valley and the mandate he had received when he felt things hotting up. He fled the Valley and Central rule was imposed. The electoral process was revived in 1996 following the successful battle against the armed insurgents backed by Pakistan. The civil war like conditions receded and so-called liberated areas once again came under the control of the state government. Farooq Abdullah who had deserted the Valley when the going was hard returned and grabbed power through an election that saw very low turnout.

Since then two dynasties - one headed by the Abdullah and the other by the Muftis - have controlled mainstream politics in the Valley. This has enabled them to corner all resources and feed an army of parasitic supporters. The young aspiring youth of the Valley have been totally left out. Instead of enjoying the fruits of development and the largesse of the Central government they have only seen conflict and depredation.

It is difficult to accept the argument that New Delhi is the cause of all problems in the Kashmir Valley. Yes, the security forces are a terrible intrusive presence but that is a reaction and not a cause of the Valley insurgency. The mainstream politicians have cynically milked the Valley and duped the youth. It is youthful disenchantment that continues to fuel the insurgency. Have mainstream politicians in the Valley genuinely and sincerely tried to address or resolve this issue? That is the question the young in the Valley must ask themselves in all honesty.

Md. Sadiq

1 August 2019