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Editorial

What happened to dialogue offer?

The Kashmir Monitor

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The hope for a dialogue on Kashmir, generated after home minister Rajnath Singh’s recent to Kashmiri separatist leadership and Pakistan, appears to have died before it could take off. The din of dialogue that had taken over the usual offensive narrative in media and government circles is now little heard. In fairness of things, the separatist leadership that is now more known as joint resistance leadership (JRL) showed a matured though measured response to the offer. The JRL, instead of rejecting the offer or putting conditions, showed willingness to talk to the central government but sought some clarifications with regard to the offer. The most positive thing in separatist leaders’ response is that Syed Ali Geelani is on board with Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik, the other two leaders in the JRL. Syed Ali Geelani had been staunch critic of any bilateral dialogue with government of India, and he would reject such offer even at the drop of the hat. Not many people had expected separatist leadership reacting so positively on the offer. As it appeared that Geelani too is ready to join the dialogue band-wagon, central government has held back on the offer of dialogue. There is no word since either from the home ministry or from the PMO. That gives one the impression that New Delhi is still dogged with its self-defined dogma of dialogue. New Delhi’s philosophy and politics of dialogue would reveal that institution of dialogue in India is the most corrupt and discredited creation. India has never used dialogue as a means to resolve issues. It rather used it as a means to corrupt people, buy time and loyalties and make those who refuse to fall in line irrelevant. A Hurriyat leader, who was part of Mirwaiz-led team that held two meetings with Dr Manmohan Singh, said that Singh, though politely, but squarely rejected every demand of Hurriyat leaders made during talks. Hurriyat leaders’ refusal to talk to now-appointed interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma could be the outcome of this history of dialogue. One is not sure where it all would stop but the most positive thing about it is that central government has realized the importance of dialogue. It is, indeed, a major departure of the Modi government from its existing “bring-them-on-kneels” policy. Pacifists have, of late, been demanding for a political approach to the Kashmir imbroglio but the Modi-led sarkar showed little interest to oblige them. It rather went up with a whole hog military approach to settle things in Kashmir. But the more pressure did they apply, the more reaction it created. More than 100 persons have died and over 15,000 wounded (all of them common civilians) in government forces’ actions to quell the peoples’ uprising provoked by the killing of Hizbul Mujhaideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016. The political leadership of separatist hues also got to be hauled under jackboots of police power. They were accused of getting funds from Pakistan to create trouble in Kashmir. Their cases of alleged involvement in money laundering were handed over to National Investigating Agency (NIA). The NIA arrested and questioned many of them. Many second-rung Hurriyat activists and a top businessman besides prominent leader Shabir Ahmad Shah have been lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail on the allegations of money laundering. There had been calls from the votaries of dialogue for blending military approach with the political one, which central government was not willing to accept. Rajnath Singh’s offer in this context was a surprise package. JRL response was even more surprising. It is quite an apt opportunity for turning this ‘surprise’ into ‘hope’. The responsibility lies on New Delhi more. Instead of remaining discreetly silent, central government take advantage of the situation and make dialogue not just to happen but to succeed as well. Governor N N Vohra, who earlier served as Kashmir interlocutor, should take it upon himself to influence central government for beginning a dialogue process on Kashmir. That is the only way that could lead to peace in the troubled region.


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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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