Election Commission of India’s decision to not hold Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir has evoked an angry reaction from the pro election parties, mainly National Conference and the Peoples’ Democratic Party. Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister and NC acting President has taken a direct dig on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying it was no less than surrender before Pakistan, militants and Hurriyat Conference, and “where is the 56 inch chest”. Omar Abdullah’s frustrating statement could be viewed in the context that he sees a chance for his party to grab the power again in the given situation. His archrival Mahbooba Mufti is in a sort of political isolation. She has lost a number of senior leaders and former minister to other parties, National Conference in particular. Some other leaders, who have left the party but have not joined any party so far, are likely to launch their own parties. Omar Abdullah thinks himself and his party natural beneficiaries from the disarray in PDP. Omar Abdullah’s angry reaction to EC’s decision should be viewed against this backdrop.
Election Commission, while announcing the schedule for parliamentary elections, said that elections for Jammu and Kashmir Assembly could not be held simultaneous due to security restraints. The state is currently under President’s rule. Almost all the political parties supporting the poll process had sought simultaneous polls along with parliamentary elections when full team of ECI was on a visit of the state on March 4. Citing security concerns, Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced that the election will be held on a later date. PDP president and former chief minister Mahbooba Mufti called it as a setback for democracy in Jammu and Kashmir. Though Mahbooba is not confident about the electoral success of her party but she put up a brave face by castigating the Election Commission for putting the assembly elections on hold.
It is quite an undeniable fact that the situation in Kashmir has been alarming since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016. South Kashmir, in particular, has been tense. It is for this fact that the ECI could not hold the by-election for Anantnag parliamentary seat in March 2017. The fear of low or no voter turnout forced the PDP candidate and Mahbooba’s brother Tassadduq Hussain to withdraw from the election, and the ECI ultimately dropped the idea of holding the election. The situation in south Kashmir is still grim and it is for this fact that the polling for this parliamentary seat is being held in three phases. It is for the first time that such a polling schedule has been announced for any constituency in the state. The separatists who have called for boycott of the elections hold a considerable sway over south Kashmir. The maximum number of militants is also reported from this region of the valley. But there is one silver lining which suggests that the assembly elections would not evoke as much ire as in the past. There is a section of people who believe that presence of elected government is necessary to safeguard whatever little special status the state enjoys. 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.Last month 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 almost all mainstream political parties called it “an act beyond its mandate” and asked to expedite the need for an elected government. In that context, the sentiment for boycott of polls is not so deep among common people. ECI should have taken advantage of the situation and it should not have deferred the assembly polls. The ECI can still rethink and re-schedule the assembly election simultaneously with parliamentary elections.
Taking the bull by the horn
Peoples Democratic Party President Mahbooba Mufti’s decision to contest from south Kashmir parliamentary seat could be termed as a bold and calculated. Bold; because she knows it for the fact that she is the most unpopular political being in Kashmir presently. Calculated; because she knows she is taking on a first-time political nominee. Mahbooba Mufti is competing against National Conference nominee and former high court Justice Hasnain Masoodi. This is Justice Masoodi’s first rendezvous with politics. He is not known to a vast majority of people across the board. He has remained out of public gaze during entire career. However, it was in the last days of his career that he caught public and political attention. In October 2015, while presiding over a case about Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Justice Masoodi gave a landmark ruling on Article 370 of Indian constitution which accords special status to the state. Justice Masoodi, in his judgment, said that Article 370 was a permanent Article and it could not be altered or aborted. The permanent status of 370 is facing a challenge in the Supreme Court by some hard-line Hindu individuals and groups. Justice Masoodi’s retired from service just two months later, and again went off the public minds. Mahbooba Mufti is counting on this weakness of her NC rival. But despite this, it would not be an easy walk for the PDP President.
Mahbooba Mufti is facing a sort of political isolation presently. She is the most disliked person in party bastion, south Kashmir. Since its rise to power in 2002, south Kashmir has remained a stronghold of the PDP. The PDP has won all the parliamentary election held since 2004 from south Kashmir. In Assembly elections too, the PDP won majority of the seats in south Kashmir (10 in 2002, 12 in 2008, 10 in 2014). But everything changed in 2016 when a mass rebellion against Indian rule began in the wake of Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing by government forces. Hundreds and thousands hit streets to mourn the death of Wani. Government forces used all their might and power to crush the rebellion. Over 100 persons, mostly young school and college going students fell to the bullets of government forces. More than 15,000 other persons were injured in pellet firing by government forces. Hundreds of them were hit in eyes losing eyes sight, some of them permanently. Hundreds others were brutalized by use of other muscular means. Mahbooba Mufti not only watched the brutality as a distant gawk but also justified the use of force. She defended the killing of the people in streets and said when people attack some formation of security forces, it would evoke reaction. On one occasions, she crossed all borders while justifying these killings saying “what for they (those killed in police firing) gone there. (Who kiya doodh aur toffee lene gaye thay, she said. The withdrawal of support by the BJP that led to the fall of Mahbooba Mufti government struck further blow to her party. That led to dozens of senior leaders and former minister of the PDP to leave the party and join other parties or form their own one. Mahbooba was virtually living in political seclusion. It was, however, her arch rival Omar Abdullah who gave her a new life and brought her out again in the political limelight. As a move to block central government’s move to dissolve assembly in November, Omar Abdullah declared support for formation of the government in the state by joining hands with PDP. Though the move did not materialize as central government played spoilsport but it definitely provided Mahbooba Mufti a corridor to come of the isolation and take the central stage. Though people have not forgotten yet the reign of terror they faced in her regime but she has since been trying to refresh her relationship with voters in south Kashmir. By taking the challenge of facing the election in person shows her renewed confidence and conviction
The muscular policy
Central government’s power-driven Kashmir policy is touching new zenith. After Jamaat-e-Islami, the government banned Yasin Malik-led Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) under ‘anti terror’ law on Friday. The outfit has been declared outlaw for promotion of secessionist activities in Jammu and Kashmir. The JKLF chief Yasin Malik has been arrested and lodged in Jammu’s Kot Balwal jail. Yasin Malik is also likely to face penalty by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and confiscation of foreign exchange recovered from him. The adjudication proceedings against Malik have already begun. The ED, on Friday, imposed a fine of Rs 14.4 lakh on Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani for “illegally possessing foreign exchange of around $10,000”. A Delhi court, last week, allowed ED to quiz Geelani’s son-in-law Altaf Shah and others in connection with an alleged funding case. Shah has been in Delhi’s Tihar jail for the past more than a year on charges of being involved in hawala funding. Delhi has gheraoed Mirwaiz Umar Farooq as well. He has been summoned by National Investigating Agency (NIA) to appear at its Delhi office in connection with investigations regarding alleged hawala funding in Kashmir. Mirwaiz, however, has refused to attend the Agency’s Delhi office for security reasons, and instead he sought the case to be shifted to Srinagar and offered his full cooperation. Earlier, the government withdrew security of all the Hurriyat leaders including Mirwaiz as a measure to tighten screws around separatist camp. The other known face of the separatist camp Shabir Shah has been in jail for over a year on the allegations of hawala funding. Masarat Alam Bhat, a key leader of Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference has been in jail since 2010. There is a grapevine in political and media circles that the central government might come with some more strict measures against separatist leaders. Banning the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and Jamiat-e-Ahl Hadees is seen as next step New Delhi might go in for.
But would it resolve the problem is a question that needs to be thought over? This is not for the first time that such harsh measures are taken by the government. In early 90s, when militancy first surfaced in Kashmir, almost all the political outfits on the separatist were reeling under ban. Thousands, not just hundreds, of political activists and common people were facing incarceration. This was coupled with a ferocious campaign by government forces against militants. Extrajudicial killings and random arrests were order of the day. Almost 10,000 have gone missing under the custody of the forces. Such measures are still in force, and at times in harsher way. The frequent and fierce use of pellets and bullets against civilians is a common practice. But this has never helped the government anyway nor would it help in future. The policy makers in Delhi need to rethink their Kashmir strategy. They are again and again using the formulas and prescriptions which have already failed, and are bound to fail again. One more reason that the policy makers in Delhi must take into account is the growing world concern over the happenings in Kashmir. India and Pakistan have just returned from the brink of a nuclear clash. International opinion is catching up with the fact that it was Kashmir that pushed the two countries towards the war. It continues to haunt the minds that allowing the issue to remain simmering is dangerous for the world peace. Bombs and tanks shall not bring peace. These will only bring destruction. Before the international community intervenes, New Delhi should take the initiative and shun its muscular approach in Kashmir. Instead of banning and jailing parties and peoples, policy of rapprochement and reconciliation should be given the chance. Government of India should open the channels of dialogue with Kashmir as also with Pakistan. That is the only way forward. Muscular approach has failed in the past it shall fail in future as well.
An exemplary leader
It is not the size of one’s chest that matters. It is the moral standing that defines one’s person. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shown that she could be small only in terms of heading a small country but she is above all in human and moral values. Her response to March 15 terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch that killed 50 Muslims has earned her appreciation from world over. She won the hearts world over for the love, compassion and support to the families of victims. The New Zealand Prime Minister was equally hateful for the attacker and refused to mention him by name saying she would not give him a name, and urged others too to do the same. She said that he should go in the history nameless. Brenton Tarrant, 28, a Narcissistic right-wing Australian terrorist motivated by his anti-Muslim ire carried out the carnage as the Muslims prayed in Christchurch mosques. He live-streamed the horrific massacre on his face book page. Tarrant, described by Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison as an “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”, expressed admiration for other violent white nationalists and his intention to “create an atmosphere of fear” and to “incite violence” against Muslims.Led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the people New Zealand down under showed showed the world how a tragedy of such huge proportions should be handled, and how governments should react in times of crisis. Jacinda Ardern was praised as the face of New Zealand in the times of grief. Right after the rampage, Ms Ardern led from the front, meeting survivors and the heirs of victims, condoling with them and offering the full support of the state. A day after the attack, when Ardern visited a Christchurch refugee centre to meet community leaders, she earned the respect of the Muslim world when she arrived in a hijab, carrying off the headscarf with natural poise, placed her hand on her heart, a traditional Muslim gesture, and said a simple, “Asalaam alaykum,” (peace be with you) as the grieving crowd murmured, “Wa alaykum asalaam. At a subsequent visit to a local mosque, her composure and empathy while meeting survivors was lauded, as was her insistence that New Zealand would remain a refuge for people of all faiths from across the world.
From taking the responsibility of informing the people herself about the immediate developments on the day that the attack took place, to later talking to the media about the hurdles in the process of returning bodies to victims’ families for burial, Ardern made sure she was there, and not someone else, to inform the people about all the goings-on—reflecting just how deeply involved and up-to-date she is. When Ardern took office in 2017 as an unmarried 37-year-old, she was not only the country’s third female prime minister and the world’s youngest world leader, she was also about to give birth. She became just the second woman, only after Pakistan then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in history to give birth while an elected head of state and the first elected leader ever to take maternity leave. This is the first time that a government head has been so widely praised by so many people from all around the globe for showing the world what true leadership looks like; for giving the world a reason to be hopeful about being led by people whose intelligence and compassion outweigh a desire for petty political points, for setting an example for heads of government all around the world by avoiding caustic rhetoric against political opponents at home and abroad.
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