Having predicted that Kashmiris would boycott the election, Indian liberals are now urging the government to act to resolving the Kashmir issue with some sort of geographical solution.
They are wrong.
Elections are the solution. Secular democracy is the only goal: It is what Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted. Kashmiris already have that.
When elections were announced on October 19, Kashmir’s leaders thought they would fail, given the heat generated over the failed transfer of land to the Amarnath Shrine, and the Hurriyat Conference’s boycott.
Few believed the elections would be this successful: The highest polling at 69 per cent, the lowest at 55 per cent.
The communist Yusuf Tarigami said “elections were no solution to the Kashmir problem”.
The secular Yasin Malik said his group, the JKLF, would campaign actively “to boycott the elections (which) was every Kashmiri’s right".
Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson Omar said his party, the National Conference, would contest, but he worried that “turnout would be low”.
Hurriyat spokesman Abdul Ghani Bhat said elections were a non-issue and, “whether or not they were held, would cause the Hurriyat no consternation.” The Jamaat-e-Islami’s Syed Ali Shah Geelani said that “so-called elections were no solution.” JKDFP’s Shabbir Shah promised a “total boycott”.
Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, the most powerful separatist leader, asked people to stay away from elections “or face social boycott”.
Why did the separatists fail in Kashmir these elections?
On January 12, 2002, President Pervez Musharraf banned Laskhar-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. He promised that “no organisation would be allowed to carry out terrorism on the pretext of Kashmir”.
In 2003, there were 3,401 incidents of violence in Kashmir. In 2005 this fell to 1,415 incidents. In 2007 this fell to less than 900. Infiltration across the Line of Control also plummeted.
Without the Lashkar and Jaish’s guns, the Hurriyat showed it had little influence. In a democracy, there is no substitute to rallying people other than through daily contact on daily issues. Leadership on one grand, emotional issue cannot be sustained.
Musharraf ended Pakistan’s jihad; Kashmiris have put a moratorium on identity issues.
Kashmiris have damaged the credibility of the Hurriyat Conference and made it irrelevant for the next six years.
The Mirwaiz is conservative, as religious leaders must be. Along with worrying about the contamination of Islam, in the manner of all South Asian maulvis, he also fought a political battle — but without ever fighting an election. He has lost. After the results were announced on Sunday, December 28, he said this was a “lesson for separatists.”
Who were the winners?
Thirty-eight-year-old Omar Abdullah will become CM. He is secular (and married to a Hindu), intelligent and experienced. Exactly the kind of man the state needs. His grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah, and Rahul Gandhi’s great-grandfather, Nehru, had a friendship that fell apart and Nehru jailed the Sheikh for a dozen years. This was after Nehru fought against Maharaja Hari Singh before Independence to have Sheikh Abdullah released. Now, these two young men, who are also friends, are at the doorstep of history.
The BJP was rewarded for its opportunism in inflaming Jammu and won 11 seats, 10 more than last time. But it has polarised Jammu from Kashmir in its recklessness. It says the issue is of discrimination against Jammu, not Hindus versus Muslims, but this is untrue. Where it has the opportunity to use bigotry — in Gujarat, and elsewhere — it does so without qualm.
The BJP talks tough to Indians but in December 1999, Vajpayee surrendered to the Jaish-e-Muhammad after the Kandahar hijacking and released Masood Azhar and Omar Saeed Sheikh. This act of myopia under pressure from a few dozen middle class families led to more terrorism in India, including the attack on Parliament in December, 2001.
It also led to the attacks on Musharraf, whose death might have led to a different story in Kashmir, and to the savage murder of Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl.
The Congress calmed tempers during the Amarnath Shrine row even at the cost of being hurt by angry Hindus in Jammu and elsewhere in India — and it is down three seats to 17. After the Mumbai attacks, under pressure from a nation begging it to go to war, the party chose instead to swallow its anger.
This sanity may cost it the next election, if Pakistani terrorism remains an issue, if Hafiz Saeed is released, but it has saved India’s economy.
Under Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, it remains the party that puts nation above self.
What about the separatists? They are fighting the wrong people.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s father was killed by the Hizbul Mujahideen in May 1990. Sajjad Lone’s father, Abdul Ghani Lone was killed by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in May 2002.
I met Abdul Ghani Lone in his Srinagar house, and while showing me out he pointed at the Indian army soldiers protecting him and referred to them as “these butchers”. But I wondered who they were protecting him from.
Mufti Mohammad Saeed’s daughter Rubaiyya was kidnapped by the JKLF in December 1989, when he was India’s home minister. The VP Singh government released five prisoners to get Saeed’s daughter back.
These people are the victims of militancy, but they became its champions. As it now fades away, they will become irrelevant unless they separate their message from violence.
Yasin Malik’s young face bears testament to the brutality of the Indian state, whose guest he has been for much of his adult life. He says elections are not the solution to the Jammu & Kashmir issue.
But India has no strategy beyond offering secular democracy and the recurring right to vote, which it has been begging Kashmiris to take — and which they have finally taken, at least for now.
Yasin Malik talks about Gandhian protest, but Gandhi did not fight for a theocratic state. In a truly Azad Kashmir, Yasin Malik will be stamped out by Mirwaiz, Geelani and the Kashmiri population that will get down to the mischief of Islamic laws — banning interest, amputating limbs, apostatizing Ahmedis and punishing the raped — that Pakistanis think they inherited from Gen Zia, but actually came to them democratically from Liaquat Ali Khan’s 1949 Objectives Resolution, and Zulfiqar Bhutto’s PPP.
(Aakar Patel is a former newspaper editor based in Mumbai)