Monday, December 29, 2014

Verdict 2014 in Jammu & Kashmir ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/December 28, 2014

Verdict 2014 in Jammu and Kashmir a Vote for Inclusive Growth Model and a Genuinely Secular State

The art of interpretation, at times, is a jumbled jigsaw when applied to fractured electoral verdicts. Last week, when Jammu and Kashmir got a hung Assembly, India’s semi-psephologists preened on their perches, hawking inane interpretations. Most of them declared it a divided verdict between J&K. Undoubtedly, Jammu voted for the BJP, while the Valley and Ladakh batted for the Mufti-led PDP, Congress and National Conference (NC). But don’t voters of different regions in states like Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh vote for different parties? Isn’t it a fact that Vidarbha and the rest of Maharashtra have been choosing opposing parties in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections? But no neo-liberal columnist or self-anointed social scientist has pronounced such outcomes as divisive.

When it comes to J&K, faux-pundits come out in droves to debase and distort the verdict, conveniently forgetting that it is also a state with three different regions, which vote according to their respective priorities. Jammu had been denying the BJP a majority for the past six decades. The party has never won more than a dozen seats until now. The remaining 22 seats went to the ‘secular’ or regional parties. Even during the 2002 and 2008 Assembly elections, Kashmir voted for regional parties and Jammu primarily for the Congress. But then it wasn’t christened a divided verdict. Because for most Westernised Indians, Kashmir’s democratic process ends at the Valley. For them, only those who win there should form the government and lead it, even if they haven’t captured the majority of votes in the entire state. They assert that the party that seizes the most votes shouldn’t be a part of the ruling dispensation and those which got patchwork verdicts should forge a grand alliance to keep it out. This is not only a dangerous interpretation, but also poses an ominous threat to the principle of democracy.

For the first time, Verdict 2014 in J&K cannot be termed fractured. Around five million residents of J&K voted for an inclusive growth model and a genuinely secular state. In political terms, it is a decisive mandate in favour of restoring its secular character, which was amputated after the mass exodus of persecuted Kashmiri Pundits. Look at the statistics. The BJP won 25 seats with 23 per cent of the votes polled, followed by the PDP, which garnered 28 seats with 22.7 per cent votes. The NC, which ruled the state with the Congress for six years, polled 20.8 per cent votes and bagged just 15 seats as against 28 in 2008. The Congress came fourth, with just 12 seats and a vote share of 18 per cent. The people of J&K used their ballots to defeat the bullets from across the border. The record voter turnout symbolises their faith in India and its instruments of impartial governance.

The message is clear. The country’s most beautiful state can no longer be governed by the perverse ideology of the past. If it has to survive as a unified entity, Jammu has to be an integral part of the government. It is also clear that the special status granted to J&K under Article 370 cannot be used exclusively for the residents of only one part of the state. In addition, the distortions introduced in Article 370, which denies full citizenship to all its residents, have to be corrected. Though PM Narendra Modi removed Article 370 from the party’s election manifesto, his charm and warmth could not melt the heart of the frozen Valley. The party could not win a single seat in either the Valley or Ladakh. Of the 34 BJP candidates who contested from the Valley, 33 lost their deposits. The BJP’s Muslim candidates, however, won in Jammu.

Now, the state needs to move towards full integration with the rest of India. With the development agenda and a stable government, the legislature is expected to remove all the rules and laws that discriminate between one Kashmiri and the other. Since the BJP seems to have given up on annulling Article 370, the state politicians must restore full political empowerment to those who have been denied their right to participate in the Assembly elections, even though they can choose their Lok Sabha candidate. To begin with, the Modi government must undo the damage done in May 1954 by the Nehru government, which clandestinely amended Article 368 to introduce Article 35A which was enforced only in J&K. It was perhaps for the first time that a constitutional amendment was passed through a presidential order and not by Parliament. Article 35A enables the J&K Constituent Assembly to deny citizenship rights to refugees from West Pakistan as well as to other Indians, barring permanent residents of the state. Armed with absolute powers, the Constituent Assembly adopted Section 6, which states that no person who crossed over to the state after May 1944 would be eligible for citizenship. Hence, over two lakh residents psychologically exist in no man’s land.
But what happened in 1990 was much worse. A pogrom was unleashed to change the Valley’s demographic character. Over four lakh Pundits were ejected from their homes to become refugees in their own country and around 300 were slaughtered. Even after 26 years since Holocaust Day, no serious attempt has been made to restore them to their homes. Most surprisingly, those who stage protests over the killings of members of other communities have never sought an enquiry into the worst case of human displacement after Partition. Even a panel appointed by the UPA government, headed by a senior journalist, to suggest a framework to resolve Kashmir’s issues ignored the plight of exiled Kashmiri Pundits. The transition from Kashmiriyat to haiwaniyat (demonisation) during the past 25 years has provided permanent careers to foreign-funded intellectuals. But the mandate of 2014 is a good omen for the state to return to the philosophy of insaniyat (humanity) propounded by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It is a litmus test for Modi, Abdullah and Mufti to follow the Vajpayee doctrine or push the state into a vortex of anarchy, turning it into a playground of blood-thirsty terrorists. ; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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