Are Kashmiris unfit for democracy? The Governor’s refusal to allow NC and PDP a shot at power will intensify anger against Delhi
Since Independence, Jammu & Kashmir has led a troubled and contentious existence. Pakistan has never tired of making trouble here, starting with the first attempt in 1948 to forcibly detach the State from India. It hardly needs recalling that hardcore Islamic groups in the Valley are aided and abetted by Islamabad to keep the State simmering. These external provocations have been compounded by many internal errors of judgment or ham-handed actions fomenting popular discontent. Democracy, the cornerstone of India’s political basis since 1952, has only fitfully survived in a State riddled by myriad complexities. For many decades after elections began in the rest of India, voters of Jammu & Kashmir rarely got an opportunity to exercise their franchise as candidates’ nomination papers were routinely rejected to ensure hand-picked nominees of Delhi were elected unopposed and presided over the State’s destiny. Also, Governments in Srinagar were periodically toppled on Delhi’s orders and puppet politicians installed as Chief Ministers.
Many rued the growing alienation of Kashmiris from the mainstream of Indian politics and society but the Centre, citing national security reasons, firmly kept the lid on. A combination of these factors along with the rise of Islamic radicalism in the 1980s saw the eruption of terrorism in the State in a big way after 1989. The Centre’s iron-fisted response to this led to the forced migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. Rigged elections and frequent spells of direct Central rule removed the remaining safety valves and the gulf of mistrust between Delhi and Srinagar continued to widen, spurred by occasional excesses by security forces and frequent terrorist outrages. But instead of reaching out to the Kashmiri people including politicians loyal to India, Delhi carried on playing a double game. Only once at the initiative of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a sincere attempt made to address the festering sores in a spirit of insaniyat or humanity. But that too was short-lived and the State was pushed back into the dark abyss from which it had tried furtively to emerge.
Actions like what we witnessed late last Wednesday night are typical of the cavalier manner in which Jammu & Kashmir has been handled by Delhi. The appointment of a has-been politician with no experience of Kashmir affairs as the State’s Governor was bad enough, especially after the enforced demise of the BJP-PDP coalition. But the refusal to allow Kashmir’s two main regional parties, National Conference and PDP, to bury differences and form a new Government amounted to a criminal error of judgment. To cover up the folly, the Governor has been compelled to fall back on the unconvincing plea of national security. It is also being said that most parties wanted the Assembly dissolved anyway. But politics is dynamic and a Governor is expected to respond to changing political realities with alacrity. The premature dissolution of the Assembly is a flagrant violation of existing constitutional norms, clearly laid down after the SR Bommai judgment. It reinforces the impression that Jammu & Kashmir cannot be allowed to have genuine democracy if the party ruling at the Centre is kept out of power. Both the State and the country as a whole must be ready to pay a heavy price for this chicanery thereby risking further alienation of the Kashmiri people.