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Intimidation undermining the credibility of upcoming elections in Kashmir

by Kashmir Times, 4 November 2008

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Kashmir Times, 4 November 2008

Pre-empting electoral verdict
- Administrative high-handedness smacks of political partisanship

Even in sham democracies, of which there is no dearth across the globe, elections are planned and conducted with specific objectives-stated as well as unstated. The validity and purposefulness of these objectives is taken for granted both, positively by those who expect to benefit from the elections and negatively by those at the other end of the divide. However, the setting being arranged for the conduct of the 11th assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir not only defies the well recognised parameters of the above criteria but also exposes total political bankruptcy behind the exercise. Everything about elections is supposed to correspond to its relevant political context. Suitable timing of elections is of prime importance for, ill-timed elections often produce counter-productive results. That is what is beginning to happen in the pre-poll phase of the 7-part elections. Instead of lowering political tensions to facilitate a healthy competition, which is what the elections are all about, the administration as well as the administration-controlled election machinery seems to be possessed by overzealousness. The so-called security bandobast for the elections is degenerating into witch hunt of those who want to exercise their legitimate democratic right to canvass for election boycott. Former chief election commissioner, JM Lyngdoh, whose impeccable impartiality and uprightness is indelibly etched on the electoral history of India, had shown rare wisdom and exemplary moral courage in braving heavier odds. His steadfast approach did not flicker under far worse circumstances prevailing in the state at that time. Lyngdoh’s boldness lent rare credibility to electoral process and subsequently facilitated significant political breakthrough as well. Let it be recalled that he had stood firm against restraining separatists from preaching poll boycott. Action was confined to only those resorting to unlawful means.

As opposed to that, what is happening today is totally unacceptable. Indiscriminate arrests are being made as if under fear. All sorts of laughable charges are being slapped on separatist leaders and activists to push them behind bars, younger lot is being hunted down in nook and corner of the state allegedly for their involvement in the recent mass protests, atmosphere of terror and intimidation is being deliberately created and the election atmosphere is getting vitiated day by day. Naturally, such high-handed tactics are bound to provoke reaction and resentment. The mainstream parties have been left to bear the brunt of administration’s destructive approach. Incidents of clashes and stone pelting on election meetings of the National Conference in North Kashmir and PDP in South Kashmir are a case in the point. If the administration does not mend its approach and attitude the ground situation is bound to deteriorate, notwithstanding wholesale detention of separatist leaders. There is a valid suspicion that the administration is clandestinely trying to provoke mass resentment which, as everyone knows, would mean promoting eventual boycott of polling. There is method in the madness. Ensuring poor voter turnout is an underhand tactic to help some ’friendly’ contesting entity. The end result might even turn out to be so but it does not need great intelligence to foresee its grave political consequences. Securing someone’s short-term electoral gains for long-term political troubles is a bad bargain for the ’beneficiaries’ of the ill-gotten favour as it has always turned out to be.

J&K electorate is no stranger to pre-emption of electoral results. People are also conversant with various techniques employed, from time to time, to defraud the process and manipulate results. Pre-poll indiscriminate arrests are very much out of that list. Resort to draconian laws like Public Safety Act, with fictitious retrospective effect, gives out the game. This is tacit acknowledgement of defeat. Net result is that election process is reduced to a farce. That is perhaps worse than having a transparently fair poll with low voter turnout. The difference between the two lies in that between the legitimacy and credibility of the electoral process. Those at the helm today would do well to just look back and see what it means to miss the vital point.