Municipal and panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir : Farce of democracy while state terrorism continues unabated

The Indian State’s barbaric rule of terror in Kashmir continues unabated.

On the one hand, the police, Army and paramilitary forces continue to fire upon unarmed people, including women and children, carry out rape and plunder with impunity. Innocent people continue to be labeled “dreaded terrorists” and killed in fake encounters, homes are ransacked and looted in the name of “search” operations, youth continue to “disappear” or die in judicial custody. Blinding hundreds of people by firing pellet bullets in the name of “countering stone–pelters”, the use of unarmed youth as “human shields” by tying them in front of army vehicles – all this has been justified by the Army Chief and spokespersons of the Central government. Under the AFSPA, the Army in Kashmir enjoys unrestricted powers to shoot at sight, torture and commit rape, with complete immunity from any legal prosecution. Under the draconian Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978, hundreds of people including minor children are jailed for years on end without any evidence and without ever being brought to trial.

On the other hand, masses of people in Kashmir have been coming out on to the streets defying the brutal state terror. Hundreds of people are reported to have come out to prevent the army from carrying out “combing” operations and arresting innocent youth. Families of “disappeared” persons have been repeatedly protesting, demanding inquiry into the disappearances and punishment of the guilty. Every case of “encounter” killing has resulted in massive protests and clashes with the security forces. Bitter clashes between the security forces and the masses of people in Kashmir have now become a daily occurrence.

On 31st August, 11 relatives of policemen were kidnapped from different villages across four districts of South Kashmir. These policemen were part of the ‘special’ police officers set up by the state, notorious for detaining and torturing innocent villagers, burning and ransacking their homes. Though the kidnapped relatives were released in few hours, the incident appears to have shaken the authorities and led to the immediate removal of the J&K police chief. In another incident, three policemen were abducted and killed in Shopian on 21st September. These policemen were reported to be part of Ikhwan – a terrorist group created and sponsored by the state – to terrorise and torture people.

To further inflame tensions in Kashmir, in early August, the Supreme Court began preliminary hearings of petitions challenging article 35A of the Constitution, which grants certain rights and privileges to residents of Kashmir. This was immediately opposed by all the political parties and popular forces in Kashmir. On 6th August massive protest actions were organized all across Kashmir, opposing the Supreme Court hearing and condemning this nefarious activity of the Central state, forcing the Supreme Court to postpone the hearing till January 2019.

With such an atmosphere prevailing in Kashmir, the Indian state has announced elections to the urban local bodies in J&K, in four phases — October 8, 10, 13, 16. Panchayat elections are to follow these. Both the main political parties in Kashmir, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, as well as other political forces there have called for boycott of the elections under such conditions of state terror. Meanwhile, there are reports of politicians and political forces advocating boycott of the elections being persecuted and arrested. Hundreds of thousands of troops have been stationed in Kashmir to conduct these so-called “free and fair” elections. (See Box: “Democratic” elections under state terror)

These is mass opposition to the elections in Kashmir at this time. The Joint Resistance Leadership has called upon the people of Kashmir to boycott the elections on each of the four days, to express their resentment against the Centre’s Army rule and their complete alienation from the Central state.

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar association extended its support to the shutdown call of the Joint Resistance Leadership for October 8 and asked all the lawyers to abstain from work on that day. Less than 8% voting was reported in the first phase held on 8th October.

Elections in such conditions are a mockery of democracy. Far from being an expression of the people’s will, it is a process of legitimizing the continuation of army rule, behind the facade of a government “elected by the people”. The fact that these elections are being imposed on the Kashmiri people at a time when they are so completely alienated from the Indian state shows once again the utter disregard of the Indian ruling class and its state for the people of Kashmir.

Civilian government in Kashmir is a mere façade, behind which the Central government rules through its Army chiefs. The main political parties of the state, the NC and the PDP are virtually powerless, with the Central state actually controlling and determining every move in that state.

PM Modi has given much publicized speeches about “Kashmiriyat, insaaniyat, jamhooriyat”. The central government has time and again conducted the farce of sending interlocutors to Kashmir, allegedly in an attempt to “reach out” to the people of Kashmir. However, it has made no serious effort to engage the people of Kashmir in working out a political solution. Every government at the centre has consistently denied the Kashmiri people the right to determine their own future. It has denied the need for a political solution to the problem in Kashmir. It has treated Kashmir as a “law and order” problem, to be dealt with brute force.

The Central Government has constantly justified the state terror, the army rule and AFSPA in Kashmir as allegedly necessary to put down “cross-border terrorism” and separatism. During his recent visit to Jammu & Kashmir in September, the Home Minister inaugurated two smart fence pilot projects along the Indo-Pak border and once again talked of upgrading technology to “prevent cross border terrorism”. The struggle of the people of Kashmir to live in dignity and determine their own destiny is portrayed as “secessionist” and “Pakistan sponsored”. All those who question the need for AFSPA and continuation of army rule in Kashmir or oppose the brutal state terror there are persecuted as a threat to “national unity and territorial integrity of India”. Incessant propaganda that Kashmiris are “anti-national” and “Pakistani agents” is used to justify the continuation of army rule in Kashmir and the persecution of Kashmiris all over the country.

The threat to the unity of our people comes, not from the Kashmiri people as the Indian ruling class tries to make out, but from the Indian ruling class itself. The Indian ruling class has consistently followed the policy of smashing the unity and solidarity of our people, by fomenting discord amongst people on the basis of religion, caste, language, region, and nationality. By doing so, it provides the Anglo-American imperialists a fertile ground to interfere in the internal affairs of our country and destabilize and weaken it.

The policy of the Indian state, of treating the people of Kashmir as “enemies” of the nation who have to be crushed with the utmost bestiality, must be resolutely opposed by all democratic minded and freedom loving people of our country. We must demand that AFSPA be immediately revoked and the Indian army withdrawn to its barracks. We must fight for an immediate political solution to the problem of the Kashmiri people.

“Democratic” elections under state terror

Area dominating operations are being carried out in the name of “smooth conduct of polls”. These are joint Cordon and Search operations carried out jointly by the Army, CRPF and Special Operations Group of the J&K police. A siege is laid around a cluster of villages simultaneously and house-to-house searches are carried out. A regular siege operation often lasts for about 10 hours.

Frisking of people and checking of vehicles, including the use of sniffer dogs, has been intensified across the state. Polling booths are reported to be surrounded by a thick layer of security forces.

In the name of “providing security”, most of the candidates have been placed under virtual house arrest, in unknown locations, by the security forces. There has been no election campaigning by any of the candidates.

People across Kashmir have complained that they have no clue about who their candidates are and when and where to go to vote. Even the government has not put the details of the candidates on the election commission website. Only the candidates themselves and their families and party members may know about their standing in the elections and may go to vote for them, people say.

According to news agency reports, no nomination papers have been filed by any candidate for 177 municipal wards out of a total 624 in the Kashmir. As many as 215 wards will return their representative unopposed. 78 candidates have already been declared unopposed in 138 polling stations characterized as “hypersensitive” in Kashmir Division.

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Municipal    panchayat    Elections    Oct 16-31 2018    Voice of the Party    Communalism     Rights     2018   

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