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l June 2003 l

A Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 2, No 2 l


Rhetoric & reality in Jammu & Kashmir

Sumer Kaul

Editor's Note: The article was written just after the October 2002 elections in the Indian state of J&K. It exposes some of the grand delusions of the BJP over the success of these elections. Some lessons for the party in the forthcoming elections. 

Top leaders of the BJP seem to be rejoicing over the J&K elections. Indeed, their broad smiles and euphuistic statements present a never-seen-before spectacle of a party celebrating not only the defeat of an ally but its own debacle. Those committed to echoing the Establishment line may say that the celebration underlines the BJP's democratic high-mindedness.

A more credible interpretation would be that the self-congratulation is really aimed at impressing western powers in the Vajpayee government's continuing quest for good-boy certificates from them. Victory of ballot over buttet, triumph of democracy, a vote for peace, a slap on the face of terrorists these have been the predictable cliches with which BJP leaders have laced their reactions to the elections in this long-beleagured state.

Whatever their calculations in putting up a brave front, they have in fact reasons to be worried about the denouement. That the party drew a blank in the valley is not surprising, nor did anyone quite expect them to score in Ladakh. What surprised observers, and must come as a goodly shock to the party, is the drubbing it got in Jammu.

The dramatic crash in the fortunes of its ally in the NDA, the National Conference, from 57 seats in 1996 to 28, may not have been all that unwelcome to the BJP if the NC's loss had been their gain; after all, their poll strategists had aligned with the anti-NC Jammu State Morcha and otherwise gone hammer and tongs at the Abdullah dispensation in the belief that the region's dissatisfied and largely Hindu population would shift their loyalty to the BJP.

The Jammu voters did disown the NC but favoured, not the BJP but its principle bete noire, the Congress. While the BJP's tally in the state is all of one, the Congress has pole-vaulted to twenty.

Pointer no. 1: People in J&K prefer Congress to the BJP; Pointer no. 2: Hindu voters will not necessarily vote for the BJP not even in what the party considers its strongholds, in this case supported by evidence of almost all previous elections. Much as party apologists may try to explain that the anti-vote was because of the NC company it kept at the Centre (which in reverse is exactly how the NC, with greater credibility, explains its own poor showing) the two obvious pointers mentioned above cannot but tend to undermine the BJP's confidence in the upcoming election in Gujarat. But even if the circumstances and what the party perceives as a "Hindu awakening" in that state work in BJP's favour, there is no such pressure-cooker sentiment in the ten other states slated to go to polls next year. 

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And if things go wrong for the party in so many states, what will be its fate in the Lok Sabha elections in 2004? Premature perhaps but these thoughts must worry the party faithfuls. Be that as it may, there are other questions the J&K elections have thrown up that transcend the fate of the BJP, questions that concern national integrity and security and must, therefore, concern the Government of India.At the base of these questions is the exit of the fundamentally proaccession National Conference, and the spectacular emergence of the new outfit called People's Democratic Party led by the former Congress stalwart in the state, Mufti Muhammed Sayeed who later became Home Minister in the anti-Congress V.P.Singh government which included the BJP. In his present political incarnation, Mufti Sayeed is not only ideologically anti-BJP but, in terms of his party's poll platform, ideationally hovering somewhere in between the pro-India and the Hurriyat mindsets in the state.

Given the post-election abacus, it was immediately assumed that the PDP and Congress would join hands, lure the requisite number of independent and fringe groups like the Panthers party, and form the government. At the time of writing, however, this likely permutation and combination has run into hurdles, chiefly but not entirely on the question of chief ministership.There are indications that even the National Conference, which had proclaimed after the poll results that it would sit in the opposition, is back in the fray.

How the situation will untangle, if at all, should be clear in a day or two, but whichever way the dice finally falls, it will be a dicey situation. Even if a coalition is cobbled before the Constitutional deadline by giving, as per the current coalition dharma(!), ministerial berths to all the cohabitating MLAs, the underlying politics of opportunism is sooner or later likely to set in motion the nationally familiar perambulations (of Aaya Rams and Gaya Mohammads) in this state as well.As things stand, however, chances are that the state will come under Governor's rule. What an inexquisite irony that will be after the enthusiastic polls.

Long before the first vote was cast in this high-visibility election I wrote: "Far from settling anything for the better in the state, the election and its outcome are likely to make the already muddy waters of the Jhelum and the Ravi muddier still and, given the devilish neighbour we have, bloodier too." Sadly, I have been proved right on both counts.

In terms of stable politics, to borrow from the American singer Harry Belafonte, the situation is "as clear as mud". As for blood and terror, 800 Indians, nearly 200 of them security personnel, have been killed in the state in the last two months. When our leaders glibly talk about victory of ballot over bullet, instead of parroting the rhetoric, we should ask them to say it before these 800 families!

Rubbing salt over the wounds is the way the West has reacted to the admittedly free and fair elections. Far from giving the subaltern-minded Vajpayee dispensation the much-coveted good boy certificate, far from seeing the elections as a reflection of the Kashmiris' No to Pakistan, the West generally and the duplicitous Americans in particular have lost no time in urging us to hold talks with the wily dictatorial regime in Islamabad, never mind if it continues to send its murderous mercenaries across the border.Indeed, going by intercepts of radio communications between the terrorists and their ISI masters, the Indian Army expects increased terrorist attacks in the state. In short, bloody business as usual.

And tragically for the people of Kashmir, and for India, this state of affairs will go on as long as we have political, diplomatic and strategic pygmies at the national helm.



Copyright 2002-2003 Shyam Lal Watt Foundation

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Jammu & Kashmir News - May 2003:  l Militants vow to oppose Pakistan ban  l  Peace process should be sincere: Sonia Gandhi  l  Mufti favours opening of transit point at Uri  l  Hizb ban has not stopped infiltration: Army  l  UJC throws weight behind Geelani  l  Give up rigid stand, Lone to Hurriyat  l  J&K groups, Al Qaeda have ties: US  l