Preparations on for a farcical poll in Kashmir - GulfToday

Preparations on for a farcical poll in Kashmir

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Preparations on for a farcical poll in Kashmir

New Delhi has created a political vacuum which hampers return of normalcy to Kashmir. Reuters

This week Jammu and Kashmir marks the 72nd anniversary of its accession to India. It was on October 26, 1947 that Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession, abandoning the dream of an independent kingdom, following an invasion by tribesmen trained by Pakistan’s army.

With all promises made by India at that time broken, for Kashmiris there is little to celebrate on this anniversary. Although some of the restrictions imposed in the wake of the abrogation  of Article 370 of the Constitution, which had given the state a special statùs, have been relaxed, the deleterious effects of the August 5 lockdown linger on.

By detaining leaders like former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference and Mehmooda Mufti of the People’s Democratic Front, who have been part of the democratic process in the valley, along with those who had stayed out of it, the Centre has created a political vacuum which hampers return of normalcy.

Early this month the government started releasing minor leaders. It also restored land phones and post-paid mobile phones. These were too little to help restore normalcy.

J&K has been without an elected government for 16 months following the collapse of  Mehmooda Mufti’s government in the wake of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s withdrawal from the coalition.

For six months it remained under Governor’s rule in terms of the State’s Constitution. Thereafter President’s rule was imposed and the State Assembly dissolved.

A legitimate course the Centre could have taken at this stage was to hold fresh Assembly elections which would allow the people to have a say on the administration of the state. The decision to reduce J&K’s status from state to union territory, which was taken without consultations with any section of public opinion in the state, precludes it from taking such a step.

October 31 is the date set for J&K to become a union territory. Ahead of this date, in a palpably unwise move, the Centre has decided to hold elections to local development block councils in the state on October 24. The farcical nature of the exercise is evident from the way polling time has been restricted to four hours, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The National Conference, the PDP and the Congress have announced boycott of the elections. That makes it a one-horse race in which the Bharatiya Janata Party can romp home all over the state.

More than two-thirds of the seats in the municipal and panchayat committees in Kashmir valley are lying vacant as a result of boycott of the elections held last year by NC and PDP.

Kashmir has a long history of farcical elections. After Sheik Abdullah’s dismissal as Prime Minister in 1953, he and his supporters were kept out of the electoral arena. To give a semblance of contest the Intelligence Bureau used to sponsor Independent candidates.

It is now clear that, like demonetisation of high-value notes in 2015 and introduction of goods and services tax in 2017, abrogation of Article 370 this year was done without devoting adequate thought to the human and economic costs involved.

The Centre has claimed that the harsh measures that followed abrogation of Article 370, such as detention of political leaders, clampdown on communications and alteration of J&K’s status, were aimed at choking the decades-old militancy in the state. However, they have hurt ordinary citizens more than the militants.

Official agencies have admitted to continued infiltration by militants after the lockdown and the elimination of a few of them by security forces. They have also said a few hundred trained militants are waiting in camps across the line of control to cross over.

LoC violations are continuing with each side laying the blame at the other’s door. On Sunday the Army chief announced yet another strike on alleged terror camps in the part of Kashmir under Pakistan’s control.

The peremptory order of early August asking all visitors, including Amarnath pilgrims, to leave the state disrupted tourism, which provides livelihood to a large section of the population in the valley. According to the Kashmir Observer, the lockdown has resulted in the loss of about one million jobs. Half of these jobs were held by Kashmiris and the other half by migrant workers.

It says over 200 units in the Khanmoh industrial estate in South Kashmir closed down following a strike in protest against scrapping of Article 370.

Industrial Estate President Zubair Ahmed put the daily loss at over Rs 30 million. He said even after normalcy was restored it would take months to get the migrant workers back and begin full production.

Kashmiris living outside the state still experience difficulty in contacting family members in the valley.  Kashmiri students in colleges outside the state are unable to receive money from home for their needs.

After reports of arrest of minors surfaced, the Supreme Court asked the J&K High Court’s Juvenile Justice Committee for a report. Without making any inquiry, the Committee passed on to the apex court information provided by the police and the J&K Child Protection Society.  

The Centre and the Supreme Court need to address the issue of human rights violations without further delay.

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