Niloofar Qureshi

Kashmir Elections: To Vote or Not to Vote!

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Its election time in Kashmir once again and as was expected, Hurriyat (G) chairman SAS Geelani has given a call for boycotting the polls and this has been followed by a stern warning from Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander Riyaz Naikoo  asking the people to stay away from elections or be ready to die. And like always, the average Kashmiri is once again faced with the same dilemma of whether to take the risk of venturing out to vote or playing it safe by staying indoors on polling day. Both the Hurriyat and militants have their own reasons for preventing Kashmiris from voting since they feel that New Delhi cites this as a referendum against ‘self determination’ and as such is detrimental to the Kashmir cause.

Unfortunately, both the separatist camp and militant groups don’t realise the grave damage they are doing to the Kashmir movement by issuing diktats and threats against public participation in elections. And neither do they realise that at times, one is actually working against the other. For example, the Hurriyat debunks elections in Kashmir as a “military exercise” and cites additional forces being brought in and deployed at polling booths and other sensitive areas to strengthen its contention. However, the global community doesn’t share this viewpoint because when militant groups openly threaten to physically harm the voters and have had a history of having done so in the past, then increasing security cover during elections is justified as ensuring safety of people casting votes is prime responsibility of the center.

Stating that “there is not even the trace of democratic values” in Kashmir, Geelani sahib has defended his present boycott call by saying that since the people here were continuously being oppressed and brutalised both physically and psychologically, there was “no moral justification for them to take part in any electoral process.” While we may not find anything odd about this poll boycott directive, but isn’t the international community likely to view Geelani sahib’s accusation that the center is responsible for the absence of democracy in Kashmir and his own poll boycott call a typical case of the ‘pot calling the kettle black’? What needs to be understood is that the international community doesn’t approve of any ‘tit for tat’ policy and thus nothing can justify poll boycott calls.

The Hurriyat (G) chairman has made a very pertinent comment that “Some argue that despite (poll) boycott, people get elected, to which I  said that it is agreed beyond doubt that people have celebrated 2 percent voter turnout; but there is hell of a difference between the crown of humiliation and crown of grace.” However, what Geelain sahib doesn’t seem to realise is that it is the poll boycott call and threats from militant groups which is helping the center to convert its “crown of humiliation” into a “crown of grace.” Is it not a fact that New Delhi keeps telling the world that despite boycott calls given by Hurriyat and death threats issued by militants, the people of Kashmir still come out and cast their votes?

Though HM commander Naikoo has said that those who cast their votes are ‘gaddars” (traitors) because voting by Kashmiris will “strengthen India,” but he hasn’t clarified as to how exactly the center will benefit from elections in J&K. However, the one thing certain is that by threatening voters, militants have unwittingly ended up helping the center. Just the other day, Naikoo issued a warning that “We have been at war with the people who participate in the election process, and the war will continue.” And by saying “We will treat them as we have been doing in the past,” he has both admitted as well as reminded people regarding past poll related killings carried out by militants. While this threat may dissuade many voters but it also conveys an extremely negative impression of outrageous public intimidation to the international community. Our leaders are greatly upset by the fact that the international community considers India to be a “victim of terrorism.” However, rather than just blame New Delhi for creating such an image by unscrupulous political and diplomatic manipulations, we need to ask ourselves whether this could also be the result of militant groups not only bragging about having killed voters in the past but threatening to do so again?

Therefore both Hurriyat and militant commanders need to review their traditional opposition to elections in Kashmir and ensure that all their actions fulfill globally accepted norms of conduct. Let’s not forget that the international community neither has the time nor the inclination to examine and accept any deviant behaviour even if it has a convincing and rational explanation. For example, the separatist conglomerate and militant commanders consider ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir a legitimate part of the ‘freedom movement’ and have been reiterating that it can’t be equated with terrorism. Yet, no other nation other than Pakistan agrees with the Hurriyat’s viewpoint. However, here again there is an irony-when it comes to expressing its official stand in international forums, Pakistan cleverly disassociates itself from the ‘freedom struggle’ by stating that it seeks resolution of the Kashmir issue entirely through peaceful means!

The reality is that the international community doesn’t accept New Delhi’s view that public participation in Kashmir elections is a ‘referendum against self determination’. Neither has the global community interpreted low voter turnout as a ‘referendum in favour of secession’ as the separatists claim. Since elections give people the chance to choose those whom they consider to be capable of providing good governance and polls in Kashmir have no relevance to the issue of ‘self determination’, the decision of the Hurriyat and militant groups directing the people of Kashmir not to cast their vote needs to be re-examined. When it’s absolutely clear that nothing is either being gained or lost by voting, the practice of certain sections of Kashmiris intimidating or killing their own people to discourage them from participating in elections doesn’t make any sense at all!

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