Cynics contend that all politicians’ want is to
make a quick buck. If that's true, those contesting the ongoing
Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) elections might do well to consider
that there are easier and safer ways of making a living. What
journalists wryly call the 'scoreboard' - the register of fatalities
in terrorist violence - has continued to grow each day. Many of the
targets have been high-profile candidates.
On September 28, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) attempted to assassinate the
Nationalist Congress Party candidate from Devsar, in southern
Kashmir. She, along with her brother, was critically injured; her
father and three others died in the explosion. The day before that,
her party colleague Abdul Gani Veeri was attacked at Bijbehara. And
the day before that, another National Conference (NC) candidate,
Ayesha Nishat, was fired on at Wachi. The previous day, terrorists
fired on the Congress (I)'s Mohammad Shafi Banday and the National
Conference's Sheikh Rafiq, both standing from Shopian.
No major attacks took place on September 22, apart from the murder
of an inconsequential NC activist, Ghulam Mohammad Parrey in Beerwah.
No surprise that terrorist groups felt the need for a little peace
and quiet, since September 21 had been a particularly busy day:
Minister of State for Tourism, Sakina Itoo, escaped a fourth attempt
on her life near Meerhama, in Kulgam. A 22-year-old villager,
Maimoona Akhtar, who had come out to support Itoo was killed, along
with a police constable. Before dawn the same morning, two Communist
Party of India (Marxist) cadres were also killed by terrorists,
along with a two-person truck crew from Punjab who had nothing
whatsoever to do with the elections.
With the total numbers of political activists killed in acts of
terror specifically directed against the ongoing election process
now at over 81, few people in their right minds ought to have any
reason to vote. And yet, some 41 per cent of voters chose to do so
in the second phase of polling, conducted on September 24 in
districts of Jammu and Srinagar (over 47 per cent had voted earlier,
in the first phase). While fewer voters came out in the core urban
segments of Srinagar, which gave birth to the rebellion of
1988-1992, participation was high in the surrounding countryside.
Abdul Gani Bhat, the chairperson of the secessionist coalition, the
All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), attributed the levels of
voting to coercion by security forces in some areas and to the
existence of a 'personality cult' in others.
Both arguments are fairly easy to debunk. Bhat's 'cult' reference
was directed at the Shia religious leader Aga Rohullah, whose father
Aga Syed Mehdi was assassinated by terrorists last year. But Shia
voters were also protesting Sunni chauvinism of the kind symbolised
by the assassination and, indeed, by Bhat's remarks. More important,
Rohullah supports the National Conference, and many Shia
communities, traditional Congress (I) voters who are often
relatively less affluent than their Sunni counterparts, hope the new
political alignment will yield tangible developmental benefits.
Debunking the notion of state coercion of voters to exercise their
franchise is a problem even easier to address. First, there were few
credible accounts of such coercion having taken place, and no
reporters' eyewitness accounts whatsoever. Second, it is hard to
understand why, if the Indian Army exercised such coercive pressure,
turnout was still so low in some areas where such pressure is
alleged to have been exerted. The only explanation would be that
residents of the Kashmir Valley are, in some neighbourhoods,
inherently more terrified of the state than in adjoining areas - a
dubious explanation at best. Even more curious, individuals
allegedly 'coerced' by soldiers to vote nevertheless felt free to
hold demonstrations against the elections and even chant anti-India
slogans in front of those very soldiers. Finally, proponents of the
thesis need to consider one simple issue: if the Indian Army was
able to so easily terrify an entire population on September 24, it
would have long ago succeeded in crushing the insurgency now
underway for over 13 years.
Sadly, the media has paid little attention to the very real
terrorist coercion evident through J&K to prevent participation
in the voting: threats rendered credible by the fact that, while not
one member of anti-election political groups has been shot at,
killings of pro-election individuals and leaders have been
widespread. This fact is likely to be crucial to voter turnout in
the third phase of elections in the hard-hit areas of southern
It has passed largely unnoticed that these elections have attracted
a rich spectrum of ideological interests. While secessionist groups
like the People's Conference and Kashmir Revival Movement have
elements formally participating, a large number of pro-independence
figures, pro-Pakistan figures, one-time terrorists and individuals
with current links to terrorist groups have entered the election
theatre through the medium of mainstream opposition parties.
Southern Kashmir, in particular, has seen a good deal of
behind-the-scenes deal making with local terrorist groups,
particularly the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM). This is, without dispute,
the most politically inclusive election J&K has seen in decades.
Terrorist violence and intimidation is, sadly, depriving the people
of the State of the opportunity to have an election that is as
inclusive in terms of grassroots participation as well.
exclusive arrangement with Institute for Conflict Management,