Politically decent campaign in Kashmir

Kashmir is decent. You may have named this land where violent conflict is raging on. It is also the place where the voters did not come out to vote in adequate numbers – the voter turnout was dismal in the parliamentary elections. No amount of security forces could instill much needed confidence among the people to vote. This is something that will rattle the political minds and the Election Commission of India that is in blessed with a unique capability when to hold the polls and when not to. It would be wrong to say that it is not taking call on the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, it is doing precisely that. It is a matter of understanding how you view and interpret.

Amidst all the misinformation campaign about Kashmir by the history illiterate groups and individuals, there was a bright spot. The political rivals did not stoop low during the campaign for the six parliamentary election in the Valley as their counterparts did in the rest of the country. Luckily BJP and Congress leaders were absent from the campaign that lasted for over a month.

There were host of issues, which many consider as non-issues, about the Valley, its people and their aspirations. Accusations and counter accusations against each other by the National Conference and PDP never got personal. Much of the dignity and respect was personal attacks. The weaknesses on the domestic front of the individual leaders were never brought in the campaign.

When PDP chief and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s cavalcade was stoned in her home town Bijbehra, her rival National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah was the first to disapprove of it. While the two rivals were attacking each other for mishandling Kashmir and bringing the Valley to brink and exchanged the notes on the history of failures of each other – Omar Abdullah’s days of distress in 2010 summer and his handling or mishandling of the situation, and Mehbooba Mufti’s administrative deficiency during 2016 when stones and pellets made it to the international headlines – the two never lowered the level of discourse.

There also were exchanges on each other’s alliances with saffron party. It was like your party first type of taunt. Omar was reminded of his days as  a minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government ( 1999-2002) , while Mehbooba was targeted politically for her party’s alliance with BJP and the coalition of PDP-BJP that ruled the state for a little over three years. These provocations were political in nature. Neither side hit the other below the belt. There were no expressions like “Chor”or thief, nor there was any reference to the familial past of the political rivals, though policies of the two parties were criticized day in and day out by one another.

There can be any number of arguments with Omar’s pitch for a separate Prime Minister for Jammu and Kashmir, but the history cannot be changed – there were times until 1965 when the State had its own Prime Minister. The Article 370 and Article 35 A too have a history, and there are historical reasons for it. There can be a debate on the issue and there can be many arguments against and in favourof the issue. Did things change for better when the title of Prime Minister was replaced by that of Chief Minister in 1965. Did J&K celebrate the national festivals in those days or now when these are characterized as “black days.”  At the same time, will the restoration of the title of PM bring peace to J&K, Omar needs to answer that. Titles make little difference. His father Farooq Abdullah will tell that better when he refused to contest the polls in December 1995 after the then Prime Minister late P V Narsimha Rao made an offer to restore the titles of “ Sadar-e-Riysat” for head of the state, and Prime Minister for the head of the government .

All such issues can be debated threadbare. But what is needed is to understand that  Kashmir is not all about Pulwama of February 14, 2019, and it was demonstrated amply when while voicing their sharp differences over policy issues, the political groups in Kashmir, whether the NC and PDO, or API of Engineer Rashid or new born Jammu Kashmir People’s Movement  of Shah Faesal , the discourse was  clean and fair.

If Gandhi could  see ray of hope in Kashmir in 1947 when the sub continent was engulfed in the communal frenzy, it is time for the national parties and their regional allies or opponents in other states to see how the bitterly divided campaign can also be kept decent.