It triggers an interesting debate about the reality of Kashmir issue
Couple of days back, five of us sitting around a table in an open air restaurant on banks of the Jhelum sipping tea- reminiscent of old time coffee klatch, talked about everything around from coming up of the skewed bridge on the river to the emerging concrete jungle across the river. Suddenly, a friend started talking about the coming elections for the state assembly.
He tried to make a point: ‘Even if only two percent vote in the coming assembly elections, it does not matter but it should not be a fractured mandate. Armed with official figures, he very forcefully tried to make his point that on the development side, fragmented mandates have proved disadvantageous to Kashmir province and five to six districts of Jammu province.’ He emphasized, ‘this time there was need for only one party winning at least with a simple majority- let it be the NC or the PDP.’
Though the debate over how a single party could win a simple majority could not catch up in the cool and serene atmosphere on the banks of river but it brought bizarre dynamics of electoral politics in the state under focus. Electoral politics in Jammu and Kashmir has not been just as simple as in various states in India. Ab initio, it got dovetailed to the dispute over future of the state. Seen in historical perspective even the genesis of the state assembly can be traced to the petition made by GOI before the UN Security Council in January 1948- and response thereof.
To quote, A.G. Noorani, “Except Jammu and Kashmir, every state accepted Part B of the Constitution of India which contained provisions uniformly for governance of the formally princely states. Jammu and Kashmir was the only state to declare its intentions to have its own Constitution drafted by its own Constituent Assembly.” Hari Singh on 5 March 1948, through a Royal Warrant appointed Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah as Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir as had appointed his earlier Prime Minister, thus by all stretch of imagination he represented him and not people. And Maharaja also ordered forming of the Constitution Assembly. This all happened at a time when Security Council was busy in moving various draft resolution ‘in the hope of getting the parties to an agreed resolution of Kashmir.’
After January 1948, the subsequent developments in the Security Council indicated that things were not going in line with India’s expectations and after ‘changing agenda from the Jammu and Kashmir question to the India -Pakistan question, India delegation in UN perhaps could not visualize the outcome of the complaint it had made before the body. In the wake of developments in the UNSC, it can be conveniently inferred the spirit behind the state having its own Constituent Assembly was to prejudice the ongoing debates in the Security Council and to see accession ratified through this body. The proceedings of the meeting between Sheikh Abdullah, Nehru and Patel on 15 -16 May 1949, amply suggest purpose behind forming of the Constituent Assembly was ratification of State’s accession with Union of India. As Noorani records, “Nehru recorded in a letter to Abdullah (On May 18) that both Patel and he agreed that it was matter of the Constituent Assembly. ‘In regard to the Jammu and Kashmir State now stands acceded to Indian Union in respect of three subjects; namely foreign affairs, defence and communications. It will be the Constituent Assembly of the state when convened to determine in respect of which other subjects the state may accede.” (Article 370 Noorani page 4). In this column, the subject under discussion not legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly and its role in ratification of accession in the light of 30 March 1951 and January 24, 1957 resolutions but how representative and effective the state assembly has been during past sixty four years.
Story of election since 1950, when elections were held for the Constituent Assembly, and almost all members were elected unopposed has been told by all historians in phrases- unsavoury to democracy. In 1984, the former Prime Minister of India, in an interview told me that people of Jammu and Kashmir should be thankful to him for giving them first fair election in 1977. Corroborating, the popular view that all election before this in the state have not been fair. Ironically, his man in the State Prem Nath Bazaz denounced the 1977 elections as story of “incredible bungling, intimidation and terror”. Majority of political analysts saw “fraudulent” elections in 1987, as a catalyst for about thirty thousand youth taking to guns in 1990. How 1996 elections that brought National Conference once again to power with 57 seats were conducted has been brought out a couple of writers including two bureaucrats associated with the exercise. By no stretch of imagination was this exercise democratic. So holds true about the elections held after 1996. In 2006, in an interview, I asked a top leader of the National Conference, why he remained away from campaign during 2002 elections, refusing to come on record, he said he had been told to do so in national interest to show internationally genuine democracy has struck roots in Kashmir. This was done diplomatic mileage on Kashmir at the international level. A face outside Abdullah family would be able to send required message to outside. In the same breath, he asserted in 2008, it would be our government.
My friend’s wish of seeing a party with simple majority elected in 2014 election is not a very simple wish. He may be genuinely feeling for it. But, it is not simple proposition. Can birth of the coalition avatar of the power structure in the state be delinked from the “Main Narrative”? Has the coalition politics in the state to do something with the frustration that bothered PCC leadership after it handed over power to Sheikh Abdullah in as undemocratic way- or there something will make interesting debate.