DDC Elections: My experience as a contestant
Kashmir valley has always been a very challenging place for electoral politics. For most of its historic existence, Kashmir has been governed under monarchial system led by both native and outside elite just like most parts of the world and South Asia. However, unlike other regions, the peculiar post-colonial modern history of Kashmir valley has never really allowed the grass-root electoral politics to take hold among Kashmiri masses, which often gives a flawed impression that Kashmiri people are perhaps not inclined towards electoral politics. Nothing could, however, be far from the truth.
The people of Kashmir valley, just like rest of the world, have always shown enthusiasm towards grass root electoral politics, whenever given a fair and honest chance. Contrary to flawed belief that majority of Kashmiri Muslim population would prefer an orthodox theocratic Islamic religious state to govern themselves, the overwhelming majority of Kashmiri Muslim population have actually shown preference for a secular and democratic political system, which is otherwise often dismissed as alien western/Christian concept in clash with Islamic values by many Muslim communities. But this is not true as far as Kashmiri Muslims are concerned and nothing exhibits this more than the enthusiastic participation of Kashmiri Muslim masses in ongoing DDC elections being conducted in the newly created union territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
I am saying this not only from the perspective of a columnist but as someone, who actually fought in these elections from Central Kashmir. No mistake be made that these elections were the first grass-root elections held in the Kashmir valley after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A of the Indian Constitution and nearly a year long communication blockade in a three-decade old violence ridden valley, which has seen enough political instability both at regional as well as international level. There were a lot of apprehensions regarding whether or not Kashmiri masses would be inclined much less interested to take part in any election whatsoever under changed political circumstances about, which many misgivings remain among Kashmiri people. Therefore, the massive participation of Kashmiri people of all ages, gender and ethnic groups in these DDC elections has taken everyone by surprise.
But not me!
I think Kashmiri people, especially Kashmiri Muslims are victims of twisted and misunderstood perception by everyone. Contrary to the recent image of Kashmiri Muslims as violent, intolerant and religiously orthodox community, the Muslims of Kashmir in fact are very intelligent, pragmatic and forward-looking lot. While the larger issue of political nature of Kashmir conundrum remains in the consciousness of ordinary people, they are not lover of religiously dogmatic administration for managing their civilian affairs. The people of Kashmir have willingly and lovingly embraced electoral democracy, whenever they got a chance to elect their representatives for solving their civilian problems of “bijli, pani & sadak”. Unfortunately, Kashmiri people never really got a fair chance at electoral politics in past 7 decades, which have been marred by corrupt electoral politics, constant interference from center, militancy and separatist politics and yet whenever given chance, Kashmiri Muslims have preferred a modern governing political democratic system of electing political representatives rather than religious Muslim Maulanas to manage their civilian issues.
My own experience while contesting the DDC elections has given me enough insight in understanding the collective wisdom of Kashmiri masses, who are often victims of negative perception. It is true that secular politicians have time and again failed to deliver efficient administration to Kashmir people. My election campaigning in Central Kashmir exposed me to the extremely dilapidated condition of infrastructure in villages and small towns of Kashmir valley, which look like dirty, filthy, muddy and broken-down medieval era human inhabitations deprived of not just the basic civil amenities but also larger infrastructure system. Widespread corruption, political instability and constant insecurity has never allowed grass-root electoral democratic institutions to take hold in nook and corners of Kashmir valley.
Electoral democracy is a self-correcting system, which takes time to overcome its short comings to evolve into a mature democratic governing system, which unfortunately the people of Kashmir never really got a chance due to unique political conditions prevailing on ground in Kashmir valley.
Yet, credit must be given to the people of Kashmir valley, who never lost faith in the working of democratic institutions despite mostly corrupt and inefficient elected representatives with their disappointing record of delivering goods and constantly failing to fulfill the expectations of Kashmiri masses. My election campaign has shown me that there is almost complete breakdown of the functioning of civilian matters on the ground and people are victims of political instability, fragile security situation, corrupt polity and apathetic bureaucracy. There is a collective yearning and desire for a more honest and effective governance system, which is separate and independent of political and ideological issues. The people of Kashmir valley are intelligent enough to demarcate between ideological issues and issues of civilian importance for which they have continued to put their trust in democratic institutions, otherwise they would not have participated in such a large number in electing their representatives, who could deliver them the basic amenities, which they are entitled to.
My participation in the ongoing DDC elections has reinforced my belief that Kashmiri people are actually a politically evolved community, which contrary to the popular belief is not socially conservative and religiously rigid but dynamic and flexible enough to embrace modern polity, just like their counterparts in rest of the South Asia and the world. The people of Kashmir valley are progressive and accommodative of modern and secular democratic governance systems and they continue to pursue the same contrary to their image of a rigid, regressive and orthodox community stuck in the vortex of bygone era. It is now the duty and responsibility to the political class, especially that, which is emerging from grassroots to deliver and fulfill the expectations of the common Kashmiri people without indulging in chronic practices of corruption, nepotism and inefficiency and be the true “public servants”, who are elected to serve the people.
- The writer is contesting DDC election from Beerwah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.