|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | ABEER MALIK|
February 15, 2001
Free and never fair
A quiet move to curtail the life span of the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly from six years to five years is more aimed at paving the way for political normalisation in the border state than establishing some sort of constitutional uniformity across the country. All other state assemblies, like the Lok Sabha, have a five-year life span.
This particular move is apparently an undeclared part of the central government's peace initiative in Kashmir whose ultimate objective is to enlarge the democratic space in the state and bring back as many disgruntled groups into the national mainstream as may be possible at the end of the day.
Despite the uncertainty about the Hurriyat delegation's projected visit to Pakistan, the peace initiative is very much in place. The general goodwill, which the unilateral cease-fire has generated, against very heavy odds, is too valuable an asset to be thrown away, irrespective of obvious practical difficulties in keeping the level of violence low. Local support to the militancy has been a key factor in sustaining a nearly twelve-year-old proxy war in Kashmir, apart, of course, from other causative and contributory factors.
Emotional alienation fed by political frustration is acknowledged to be the biggest hurdle in the way towards enlarging democratic space in the state in general and the Kashmir Valley in particular. The situation in that context is analogous to that which prevailed in early seventies when the then Plebiscite Front was sought to be brought back into the mainstream. The then ruling party -- Congress -- had just 'won' an assembly election, in the face of the PF's poll boycott. The party commanded a comfortable two-thirds majority in the legislative assembly, just like the National Conference does today.
But as Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah began to bridge the gap between them and explore common ground to break the 22-year-old logjam, decks were slowly cleared for eventual change of guard in Kashmir. Modalities, however, had to be worked keeping in view the peculiar needs of the hour as also the historical nature of the relationship between the dramatis personae.
But before the two sides could formulate a strategy to complete the political part of the deal after having accomplished the constitutional part of it, Indira Gandhi was out of power (1977) in Delhi. However, a sequence of unforeseen events produced the pre-set result. The state assembly was prematurely dissolved enabling the Sheikh and his PF to replace the Congress-dominated House.
The six year long(er) life span of the J&K assembly is actually a hangover of the Emergency era when a federal constitutional amendment sought to extend the life of all directly elected legislative bodies by one year. The anomaly was rectified at the Centre soon after the then Janata Party government came to power. But the Sheikh chose to let it remain and nobody took objection to this anachronistic feature being allowed to perpetuate as one of the dubious 'unique' features of J&K's special constitutional status.
Now that the move is being contemplated to undo the anomaly, it is inconceivable that the present government in Delhi has been suddenly possessed by some kind of blood rush to enforce a uniform constitutional code across the country. Of course, it is an open secret that all that the NDA government has been able to do is to sound a 'friendly' suggestion to one of its allies whose indispensability is more a qualitative desirability than any quantitative compulsion.
If the reports coming from Kashmir are true, Farooq Abdullah too should not be looking at the proposition with any undue apprehension. He is shrewd enough to realise that in the quicksand politics of Kashmir time is not on his side, as indeed it has never been on the side of his similarly placed predecessors. And quite legitimately, Abdullah has been making subtle moves to pave the way for his son Omar Abdullah's succession in Kashmir. The junior Abdullah has almost completed his apprenticeship at the Centre and he is honest enough to admit where his ultimate ambition lies, between Delhi and Srinagar.
To be sure, the Hurriyat Conference could not afford to ignore the significance of all these tactical moves being made on Kashmir's political chessboard. And it does not need any great research to trace the rising level of interest within the separatist conglomerate which these moves have been generating, notwithstanding frustrating roadblocks on the way.
As for the people, more than curtailing the life of the state assembly from six to five years, what really matters is how the new house is sought to be brought about. A genuinely free, fair election in Kashmir is as distant a dream for Kashmiris as the ultimate end of India's troubles in the border state is to the people in rest of the country. Perhaps a better way to explain its importance is to re-emphasise the fact that neutrality of the state official machinery in elections is conventionally treated as active hostility towards the political boss/party in power, with inevitable consequences.
There have been no exceptions to this unwritten rule all through the sordid history of elections in Kashmir, beginning, ironically, with the 1951 elections to the state constituent assembly under Sheikh Abdullah's command. Almost all the 75 seats in the house were filled without any contest. Opposition candidates were construed to be an undesirable presence, as that would have been seen as a challenge to the popularity of the then ruler. The tradition is being religiously maintained by successive rulers.
If only Atal Bihari Vajpayee can break the vicious circle of fraudulent elections-leading-to-alienation-armed insurgency, he would have carved a place for himself in history. But then Kashmir, once known as paradise on the earth, has long been turned into a graveyard of reputations.
ASTROLOGY | NEWSLINKS | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL BOOKINGS
AIR/RAIL | WEDDING | ROMANCE | WEATHER | WOMEN | E-CARDS | SEARCH
HOMEPAGES | FREE MESSENGER | FREE EMAIL | CONTESTS | FEEDBACK