Kashmir Elections: Another round of cattle-trading over!

December 29, 2008

As the elections in Indian Kashmir (Jammu & Kashmir state) come to an end, the poll results have triggered another round of cattle-trading in a region known for its vibrant, and often violent, electoral history. The polls haven’t been much of a revelation, except for the fact that the secessionist parties seem to have been delivered a body-blow. Incidentally, the secessionist factions in the state had boycotted the elections and had vehemently urged citizens not to vote. However, defying personal and communal threats, the populations turned out in historically large numbers. The Central Election Commission of India has gone as far ahead as calling this ‘the most successful election ever’.

More importantly though, these results come at a time when India is reeling from the Mumbai 26/11 incident and needs some sort of a ‘show-piece’ event to reassert its democratic foundations. The Jammu & Kashmir elections might well be that reaffirming factor, because after-all India’s most fought-over region has finally shown some signs of conclusively entering the democratic process.

Interestingly, despite these seemingly positive developments in the region, especially against the backdrop of growing tension between India and Pakistan, the fact that India is a multi-party democracy defined by unwieldy coalition governments might put the future of the state in jeopardy. The last government in the state – a coalition between the People’s Democratic Party and the Congress – came crashing down earlier this year as regional tensions flared due to the Amarnath Shrine land transfer dispute between Hindus and Muslims in the state.

According to reports within the last few hours, the National Conference – Kashmir’s oldest political outfit – will join hands with the Congress to form the next state government; the same Congress that had sided with another party previously. And although the state is slated to have its youngest Chief Minister ever, these elections too have clearly exposed India’s perennial ailment of the ‘coalition government’.

There can be no fundamental objection to such governments, but in the context of Jammu & Kashmir at least, there needs to be the realisation that despite ideological differences, political parties need to work across the aisle if the secessionist movement is to be contained. Specifically, it was due to the recent Amarnath Shrine dispute that the secessionist movement in the state was given a fillip, thereby allowing it to occupy the political vacuum that warring political parties had created in their effort to lead at the one-upmanship game.

However, now that the real-time political impact of the secessionist movement has been shown to be next to nothing, there should be a concerted effort by the Indian government and the new government of Jammu & Kashmir to not isolate those seeking nationhood. Rather, the new paradigm should seek to coax these factions into the mainstream political process, and allow the people of the region to exercise their mandate in actuality.

Because the statistics surrounding the voter turn-out are only being co-related with the reduction of secessionist tendencies; there is no causation involved. Just because more people have voted, possibly out of sheer frustration with the current governing majority, doesn’t mean that secessionism in Jammu & Kashmir is in its final throes.