India’s failed democratic experiments in Kashmir

1853

Dr Rajkumar Singh

AMID fear and suspicion the Accession of the Princely State of the Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India was completed in October 1947 after the signing of the Instrument of Accession between the Maharaja of the State and the Government of India.. In the initial years India got support of the main political party and its leader Sheikh Abdallah. In those years Kashmir was treated as a symbol and test of India being a bonafide secular State. Even at that time as today the State of Jammu and Kashmir was inhabited by pro-India and pro-Pakistan elements. These communal forces had given an upper hand to Sheikh Abdullah in his dealings with the Government over the future of territory in which the secular weakness of India also remained a factor. Once Abdullah’s position in state’s politics became a certain he began to talk about the limited character of the accession in the Indian Union and full autonomy for the state. Initially he praised India’s secular democracy which is based on justice, freedom and equality for all without distinction and hoped these all to be realised while deciding the future of the state. In a further development when Abdullah’s voice became louder against the Government of India, he was put behind the bar on various anti-national charges including corruption.
Erosion of autonomy of the State: With Sheikh Abdullah out of the way, it became easier for the Central Government to work with Bakshi. The old suspicions had disappeared and the Kashmir Governments were by then convinced that the main aim of Delhi Operation was to prevent subversion, terrorisation, sabotage and conspiracy by Pakistani agents. Bakshi was a liberal-minded and large-hearted person with his feet planted strongly amongst the masses. He tried to do much for improving the material conditions of the people of Kashmir and achieved a great deal. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution stands for the special care taken and many due and undue favours shown to win the goodwill of the Kashmiris. But the arrest of Abdullah and installation of Bakshi compelled New Delhi to have a second thought on its Kashmir policy. From here and now a systematic erosion of the autonomy of Kashmir started and this was the beginning of the end of Article 370. In 1954 a constitutional order was promulgated by the President of India, which empowered the Indian Government to legislate on all matters on the Union List, not just defense, foreign affairs and communications. This order came into force on 14 May 1954 and superseded both the constitutional application order of 1950 and Delhi Agreement of 1952. The order also put a drastic curbs on fundamental liberties, freedom of speech, assembly and association in the State could now be suspended at any time on grounds of security.
Riggings in election and fading of democracy: Closely related to it is the aspect of free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The people of the state had never seen genuine elections except in 1977, 1983 and now in 2002. All other elections in J&K witnessed a meaningless rituals. A democratic polity is supposed to be one in which the government and the people together create an open and civil society an integrated whole that is brought and kept together by virtue of its being open, one in which the people participate not just in things like elections and development projects, but together in creating a common future. Earlier too in the assembly elections of 1957 and 1962, the official National Conference, headed by Bakshi, won between 95 and 97 per cent of seats. The ruling party’s candidates were returned unopposed in almost all seats in the valley where virtually there was no contest at all in 43 and 34 seats.
In 1977 the first reasonably democratic election was held. The Plebiscite Front, revived under the aegis of the National Conference, obtained a decisive majority in the Valley where Congress was wiped out. In post-Independence Kashmir, a new generation has arisen which is more educated, more politically conscious and self-assertive; it is in search of human and democratic rights denied to the people for three decades. The educated Muslim youth whose number multiplied several times since independence realised by 1977 that Abdullah’s inconsistent behaviour had thwarted the progress of the state people in every sphere of social life. While free elections were common in all other states, Jammu and Kashmir alone suffered from gerrymandering and rigging every time elections to parliament or State Assembly. Death of Sheikh Abdullah in 1982 followed a reasonably free and fair election in 1983. His party National Conference, now led by Farooq Abdullah, his eldest son, won a solid majority 47 of 76 assembly seats. This was a major achievement, since the election had been fiercely contested against the Congress (1), the party ruling Delhi. In line, as a result of the assembly elections held in 2002, a new coalition government of Congress and People’s Democratic party, headed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has taken over the reign in Jammu and Kashmir. The new dispensation had announced a Common Minimum Programme which among other things, noted that, ‘the goal of the coalition government is to heal the physical, psychological and emotional wounds inflicted by decades of militancy.
— The writer is Professor and Head, P G Department of Political Science, Bihar, India.

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