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Our shared legacy

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Governor N. N. Vohra should be appreciated for maintaining the dignity of the government with regard to the historic Martyrs’ Day on July 13. By issuing the message of peace on the occasion, he recognized the Day as significant and historic quite in tune with state government’s established position but in quite contravention to BJP’s stand. Ever since BJP came to power in the state in alliance with the PDP in 2014, the rabid Hindutva group used to dishonour the Martyrs by boycotting the official functions on the Day. They instead used to praise Dogra Maharaj, whose tyrant regime had usurped the rights of Kashmiri people. Representing the Dogra political legacy, they viewed it as Kashmiris’ struggle for dominance over Jammu. There had been voices oft and on against Kashmir domination. Some sections there favour a separate statehood for Jammu. What is even more insulting both for the people of Kashmir and the martyrs is that, last year, a BJP leader Ravinder Raina had the audacity of saying that his party did not consider those killed by then Dogra Maharaja’s police as martyrs. As the state is presently running under Governor’s rule, N N Vohra toed established official position. In a message on the occasion, he called upon the leaders of all political and religious parties and social organizations and the people of the state to shed all differences and join hands to make Jammu and Kashmir peaceful, prosperous and among the leading states in the country. He observed that Jammu and Kashmir was known for its glorious pluralistic ethos, amity and brotherhood, and urged the people to work towards restoring the pristine glory of the State as an abode of peace, harmony and prosperity.
July 13 is a significant day in our history. The day is commemorated in memory of the 22 Kashmiris who were shot dead outside the Srinagar Central Jail by the troops of Dogra Maharaja, where they had gathered to witness the court proceedings against one, Abdul Qadeer, who was being tried for his alleged “crime” of instigating Kashmiri people to defy Dogra rule. In political terminology, the day marks the beginning of Kashmir’s’ struggle for justice and human and political rights, which had been trampled upon by the despotic Maharaja ruler. The Maharaja rule ended in 1947 and for those fighting against him the struggle was over and objective achieved. That is the belief people in power hold. National Conference views it as party achievement against Maharaja Rule for the reason that its founder leader Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah was at the forefront in the battle against Maharaja. For quite a long time since 1947, the NC would claim exclusive rights of July 13 martyrs’ as if they were their party cadres. The followers of Mirwaiz Mohammad Yousuf Shah, in parts Srinagar, were the only exception who would observe the day other than NC and people in the government. With the eruption of militancy in 1989-90, the common perception about July 13 martyrs changed squarely. Rather than being a party affair, the people of Kashmir adopted them in general. The separatist sections added a new meaning to the martyrs’ cause by calling that the struggle for justice did not end in 1947. They said that it rather made a new beginning that year. For the coming years, July 13 became a moment of reverence for one and all. Voices were raised loud and clear that the struggle for justice was still on and would be achieved only after India grants right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir. Almost for a decade, the pro India parties and government had to remain away from the martyrs’ graveyard, though the state government, through press statements, continued to pay tributes to the martyrs. That, at least, showed the spirit that, whatever the political differences; the martyrs of July 13, 1931 are our shared legacy.


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Editorial

ECI’s credibility in question

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Election Commission is regarded as the most respectable and elite institution in India leading and holding the election process efficiently and honestly.  But in the ongoing general election, its credibility has come under serious question. The opposition parties have time and again raised fingers on the conduct of the Commission with accusations of ignoring the breach of Model Code of Conduct by the ruling BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Tuesday, the EC came under fresh attack with opposition parties raising new questions about the protocols followed while shifting and storing electronic voting machines (EVMs) after polls and the way the counting will be done on Thursday. Videos of some EVMs being transported in private vehicles without security in UP, Bihar, Punjab and Delhi were shown in support of these accusations. Protest demonstrations have been reported from several places in UP with protestors alleging foul play. Though the Election Commission clarified that these were empty EVMs being brought back to strong rooms, however, the procedure followed in itself is questionable and defies the guideline laid by the EC. EVMs used or unused have to be brought back to strong rooms under strict security of the central forces, say the guidelines. Suspicions are raised that the EVMs are pre-loaded with votes and could be replaced to influence the outcome of elections. The fears have been exacerbated by suggestions that a pre-emptive narrative has already been created through exit polls. Despite EC’s clarification, the bitterness against the Commission has not died down. Since the counting of votes is taking place tomorrow, it is unlikely to guess which way the wind blows. Leaders of 22 political parties submitted a memorandum to the EC urging the poll watchdog to ensure paper slips from the VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) module are matched before the counting begins. At present, the counting will involve the matching of paper slips in five polling booths picked at random for each assembly segment.

The questions on the conduct of Election Commission were raised all through the poll campaign. On occasions, the Commission was publicly accused of being biased and unfaithful in its behaviour. The EC’s discreet silence over the launch of Namo TV—a free publicity channel—without a proper license is what hurt its credibility most. The TV channel was launched by unknown persons with the announcement of elections. The channel went off air the very day when polling was held in last phase on May 19. There had been huge cry against the channel but the EC failed to take action. Some statements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi purportedly politicizing armed forces and announcement of India’s first anti-satellite (ASAT) test on March 27, and UP chief minister Adityanath Yogi’s statement wherein he referred armed forces as “Modi’s army” (which were deemed as grave violation of Moral Code of Conduct also failed to attract the attention of the Commission. The Election Commission instead of taking any action gave clean chit to the Prime Minister. One member of the Commission Ashok Lavasa had dissented on a series of clean chits given by the Commission to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah on their speeches during the election campaign but it was not made part of the order. Needless to say, the questions being raised about the credibility of the EC are a cause for worry.  Elections are the bedrock of democracy and the EC’s credibility is central to democratic legitimacy. It is time that ECI conduct itself in fair and honest manner to maintain the dignity and credibility of the institution. It is a step needed towards restoring all-important public faith in the institution.

 
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Editorial

What the exit polls mean for India

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A series of exit polls have predicted return of Narendra Modi to power as the voting process in the general elections completed on Sunday. More than half a dozen polls suggested that Modi and his party BJP are all set to get the majority in the elections and they will get 280 to 300 seats (in the House of 543) when the votes would be counted on May 23. It goes without saying that exit polls are not exact polls. India has a patchy track record of exit polls. In 2004 and 2009 general elections, the exit polls had predicted BJP’s win. But the final result was against the BJP. It was the Congress which stole the show. However, if this time the polls matched the official results, it would have a loud message for the entire country. Sectarian divide and economic distress have been two key issues which dominated the five-year rule of Narendra Modi. The rise of Hinutwa forces was the other main highlight of this rule. Several moves aimed at changing the idea of India (from secular to Hindu) were set in foot at various levels. Key Hindutwa figures were given crucial positions in and outside the government that had created a sought of deep wedge in the society. Muslims, lower caste Hindus (Dalits) and Christians mainly faced the brunt of this campaign. Dozens of Muslims were killed by Hindu zealots (cow vigilantes) on flimsy accusations of transporting cows for slaughter and carrying beef. In UP, under Adityanath Yogi, places with Muslim names were changed with Hindu names which many people saw as an attempt to erase the Muslim past. The farmers’ distress was at its peak. Hundreds of farmers committed suicides following deteriorating economic conditions. The GST and demonetization affected badly the traders and business class who expressed their anger publicly.

Despite all this, Modi (if one goes by the exit poll) remains incredibly the most popular leader of India. He was the face of the party’s campaign, addressing 142 rallies across the country. In his speeches, he targeted Congress and other opposition parties and leaders as “Pakistani proxies”. It appears that the ideological change the Modi government has initiated in his previous rule has got social approval. The worrying part of it is that Modi’s supposed victory would embolden the Hindutwa brigade to assert Hindu nationalist policies with more vigor and force. For the people of Jammu and Kashmir too it is fraught with more risks. It is yet another hard era dawning at the people of Kashmir. Removal Articles 370 and 35-A of Indian constitution which safeguard the interests of the people of the state have been part of BJP’s election campaign. No less a person that home minister Rajnath Singh said on several occasions that these articles would be quashed. It is most likely that the new BJP government would undo these constitutional provisions to annul the state’s special status. It would mean yet another period of uncertainty ahead of the people of Kashmir. The larger picture is that Indo-Pak relations touched the lowest ever ebb in the past five years of Modi rule. The two countries virtually came to the brink of nuclear war. The air strike inside Pakistan by Indian air force and the retaliatory action by Pakistan army had plunged the region into the war, which however was averted due to international intervention. Muscular policy in foreign as well as domestic affairs is likely to remain the core of Modi’s new government. Its consequences are not difficult to imagine. The minorities, Muslims, Dalits and Christian in particular, have definitely a cause to be worried if the exit polls turned out to exact polls.

 
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Editorial

The “messy” business of assembly elections

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The Assembly elections, which many people had speculated would be held soon after parliamentary elections, are unlikely to be held so soon.

The 40-days polling process has come to an end with final phase of polling for 59 parliamentary seats across different states on Sunday.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) took stock of Kashmir situation on many occasions in the past one month to weigh out the possibility of Assembly elections but there has been no definite word from the Commission so far.

 

Last month, some hints had been dropped from different sources that the Assembly elections could be held in June before the start of Amarnath Yatra. However, the way ECI has maintained silence on the subject; it is now unlikely that any such plan is under the consideration of the Commission. It is believed the elections could be postponed till November. Jammu and Kashmir is currently reeling President’s rule.

Last year, Governor’s Rule was imposed in the state on June 19 after the ruling alliance between the BJP and Mehbooba Mufti fell apart. Six months later, on November 21, the state Assembly was dissolved by the Governor. A month later, on December 19, President’s Rule was imposed.

Its six-month term ends in July 18. President’s Rule in the state needs to be extended before July 2 for which the new government at the centre has to take charge immediately after the election results on May 23. What makes the issue even more complicated is what if new government at the Centre refused to extend President’s rule beyond the scheduled date. ECI is reported to have sought legal opinion on the subject to escape the blame for the mess that could happen.
Almost all the pro election groups in Jammu and Kashmir are in favour of holding assembly elections without delay. NC, PDP and BJP have been demanding that elections should be held as soon as possible. Election Commission of India visited the state and held consultations with the relevant political parties and state administration many a times over the past six months. The elections are delayed under garb of ‘situation not being conducive’. But there is one silver lining which suggests that the assembly elections would not be too difficult proposition. The “peaceful” conduct of parliamentary elections shows the way. Though there had been unprecedented boycott of the polling but these were peaceful as well. A general refrain is that major sections of society were in favor of elected government in the state. They believe that presence of elected government is necessary to safeguard the interests of the state. A common refrain is that the BJP-led central government has been trying to trample upon the state’s special position by undoing Article 35-A and 370 of the Indian constitution which grants some special position to Jammu and Kashmir. With Delhi’s man (Governor) at the helm of affairs, it is unlikely the present dispensation would defend it. A few months back Governor’s administration took a slew of measures including separating Ladakh from Kashmir division, changes procedure of issuing Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), amendment in rules of Jammu & Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act — by virtue of which the State Human Rights Commission will be unable to investigate any complaint of human rights violation submitted one year after the incident — “an act beyond its mandate” has necessitated the need for an elected government. In that context, the sentiment for boycott of polls is not so deep among common people. ECI should take the advantage of the situation and it should not have deferred the assembly polls. The ECI can still rethink and re-schedule the assembly elections soon after the parliamentary elections.


Almost all the pro election groups in Jammu and Kashmir are in favour of holding assembly elections without delay. NC, PDP and BJP have been demanding that elections should be held as soon as possible. Election Commission of India visited the state and held consultations with the relevant political parties and state administration many a times over the past six months. The elections are delayed under garb of ‘situation not being conducive’. But there is one silver lining which suggests that the assembly elections would not be too difficult proposition. The “peaceful” conduct of parliamentary elections shows the way. Though there had been unprecedented boycott of the polling but these were peaceful as well. A general refrain is that major sections of society were in favor of elected government in the state. They believe that presence of elected government is necessary to safeguard the interests of the state. A common refrain is that the BJP-led central government has been trying to trample upon the state’s special position by undoing Article 35-A and 370 of the Indian constitution which grants some special position to Jammu and Kashmir. With Delhi’s man (Governor) at the helm of affairs, it is unlikely the present dispensation would defend it. A few months back Governor’s administration took a slew of measures including separating Ladakh from Kashmir division, changes procedure of issuing Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), amendment in rules of Jammu & Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act — by virtue of which the State Human Rights Commission will be unable to investigate any complaint of human rights violation submitted one year after the incident — “an act beyond its mandate” has necessitated the need for an elected government. In that context, the sentiment for boycott of polls is not so deep among common people. ECI should take the advantage of the situation and it should not have deferred the assembly polls. The ECI can still rethink and re-schedule the assembly elections soon after the parliamentary elections.

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