The impending electoral battle that will culminate by the middle of May is not only interesting at the national level where the race for power is being watched keenly by Indians as well as the international community, but in the context of Jammu and Kashmir also the elections cannot be ignored just as an exercise to elect six members of parliament. Not only does the ghost of 1987 assembly elections continuously haunt the people but the exercise that was taken up after 1996 has also been a matter of serious debate. Of late the competing narratives vis-a-vis elections have also occupied a larger space in the political spectrum, as those who are for it are desperate to make the polls a legitimate process and on the other hand the separatists want boycott to prove that it is a “sham exercise”.
Notwithstanding the fact that participation of people in elections in 2008, that too after a massive agitation over Amarnath land row culminating in the demand for “Azadi”, continues to baffle the minds of Kashmir watchers, the 2014 elections, irrespective of the turnout, will set the stage for a completely changed dynamics of mainstream politics in the state.
Interestingly, in the last over two decades, India has seen growing assertion of regional forces playing an important role in the making and breaking of governments at the centre and the situation has not changed much even as two national parties — Congress and the Bhartiya Janta Party have been trying to regain foothold. Nevertheless, the forthcoming elections are likely to throw up a mandate, which will further empower the regional parties, may be even with smaller number of seats.
However, that is not the case in Jammu and Kashmir as the ruling National Conference (NC), which happens to be the oldest political party in the state has already conceded half of its space to Congress. It is unlike those states that see regional parties growing in power. Here the Congress in past over a decade has emerged as the kingmaker, which holds key to power and is like an interlocutor between two regional parties viz., NC and People’s Democratic Party. NC surely has compulsion to be with Congress since both are allies in the coalition government. But conceding Jammu and Ladakh completely to Congress is something which does not augur well for both the state and NC. Its leaders may not agree but this largest party is playing second fiddle to Congress. In 2009, NC had still played a card in Kargil by supporting Hassan Khan but this time they completely surrendered in spite of the fact that three out of four MLA’s from Ladakh are NC members.
Likewise, the Congress presence in Kashmir is not so spectacular that NC should have settled for both the seats in Jammu region. It has the distinction of having strong roots in all the three regions of the state with substantial electoral base.
It is appropriate time for NC to introspect as to why it was reduced to a “dictated” party from a position where it could dictate. Its vote share has drastically reduced and its seats have gone down from 60 in1996 to 28 in 2002 and 2008. Consequently the NC has no space to bargain and that is why it is forced to compromise on crucial issues like the returning of power projects and the withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act. NC being a weak party has also cast a shadow over its representative character vis-a-vis the aspirations of Kashmiri people. Today, Kashmir is subservient to the whims and wishes of the strong political power Jammu and Ladakh are enjoying.
We have seen how PDP has also succumbed to pressures from Congress ministers as they continue to blackmail them for smaller issues. It is only because the votes in Kashmir are divided not only between two parties NC and PDP but now even among smaller groups. Even as NC was not able to realize the aspirations, PDP coming on the scene completely weakened Kashmir’s political power and its tilt favoured the Congress. One would expect that all Kashmir based parties come under one banner to safeguard the aspirations but that is a remote possibility. NC and PDP are like DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu who cannot see eye to eye with each other.
The given situation is advantage to Delhi. One voice was something that rulers in Delhi would like to hear from Kashmir. Fate of 2000 Autonomy resolution passed in Assembly is something which one can always see as how Delhi wants to deal with Kashmir. And the fragmentation of political forces both in mainstream and separatist camp comes in handy for that. It would not be out of place to say that Congress is the mother of all manipulations in Kashmir.
During the past six decades the regional sentiments elsewhere have been honoured and that is why the non- Congress and non-BJP governments could come into power in Delhi.
But in case of Kashmir, the yard stick was different. Noted political scientist Aushutosh Varshney writes in one of his incisive papers that the seeds of discord between Delhi and Srinagar were sown during Jawahar Lal Nehru’s regime only, even as he showed the dialogue going on about autonomy. Varshney is of the view that Nehru was accommodative in accepting the Dravidian sentiment and was very un-accommodative in case of Kashmir, even as he gave the impression that it was close to his heart. In fact the Dravidian movement had emerged as most potent threat to Indian state post 1947 but it was diffused by acceding to their sub- national identity. However, in case of Kashmir it was subverted and even the tallest leader Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed and jailed.
The level of disempowerment can be gauged from the difference of approach of J&K lawmakers and their counterparts in Tamil Nadu. A day after the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of three persons convicted for the murder of former PM Rajiv Gandhi from death to life imprisonment, the Tamil Nadu government announced that it intended to release all seven persons convicted in the case. Despite strong resentment of Congress, the Jayalalithaa government put its foot down and was hailed by political parties across Tamil Nadu, including her arch rival M Karunanidhi. Contrast this with the response of Kashmir-based political parties in the case of controversial execution of Afzal Guru. Their lack of assertiveness meant that Delhi could take them forgranted and send Guru to gallows.
While the leaders like Jayalalithaa and Karunanadhi continue to call the shots as powerful regional leaders or for that matter Mamata Banerjee or Navin Patnaik but Kashmiri leaders are not only powerless but are also apologetic. The argument that Jammu and Kashmir sends only six MPs cannot justify this regional disempowerment. One cannot continue to blame Delhi for this but it is essentially how the leaders of our state behave in the craft. Tendency to crawl when asked to bend is a weakness with which these parties and leaders have been conducting themselves and it will continue to disempower Kashmiris as long as they are ready to do it for the sake of power.