India imposes direct rule in Kashmir after its party loses out in elections

Zawahir Siddique

Sha'ban 25, 1423 2002-11-01


by Zawahir Siddique (World, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 17, Sha'ban, 1423)

“Free and fair” elections in Indian-occupied Kashmir ended in anticlimax on October 17 when Governor’s rule was imposed for six months. This development followed the refusal of Dr Farooq Abdullah, the outgoing chief minister, to continue as caretaker head of government after the expiry of his six-year term. The state assembly was immediately put into “suspended animation”.

The results of the democratic poll were announced on October 10. The National Conference (NC) emerged as the single largest party in parliament with 28 seats, followed by the Congress Party (20) and the People’s’ Democratic Party (PDP) (16). The (23) remaining seats were won by independent candidates. On October 16 the People’s Democratic Forum (PDF), a new body of four independents and two CPI (M) members, charged Congress and the PDP to form an alliance by October 17. However, the parties failed to meet this deadline. So the deadline was extended to October 21. Following requests by prime minister AB Vajpayee to continue as caretaker chief minister till October 21, Farooq Abdullah said on October 17: “I will do whatever is in the interest of the state and the country.” On the same day, however, expressing his inability to continue in office, Dr Abdullah said: “I met the governor and told him that I have no moral right to stay in power beyond midnight [October 17]. I made it clear to him that I have no intention of continuing as caretaker chief minister.” Governor’s rule was immediately imposed and Dr Abdullah denied that he pushed the state towards constitutional crisis. “The state is already in crisis... Why don’t you blame Congress and the PDP for it? They are delaying the formation of the new government over the issue of chief ministership. If the two parties fight over chief ministership for so long, how can they serve the people in their rule?” Abdullah asked. Asked why NC, in spite of being the single largest party in parliament, did not form a new government, Abdullah said: “ We want to allow other parties to form the government, and feel that enjoying power in this state is full of thorns.”

On October 19, in an attempt to break the deadlock between the Congress and PDP over the formation of a coalition government, Sonia Gandhi, the Congress All-India president, spoke to the current PDP president, Mufti Sayeed, by telephone. She also decided to send senior Congress leader Manmohan Singh to Srinagar on October 20 for detailed discussions with Sayeed. The results of Dr Singh’s two-day mission were inconclusive. Besides Dr Singh, Kashmir Congress president Azad, senior PDP leaders Mehbooba Mufti and Muzaffar Hussain Beig were also present at a luncheon meeting at Mufti Sayeed’s residence. The issue of the chief ministership, which had emerged as the stumbling block to government formation, continued to dominate the discussions.

Dr Singh also met the governor and leaders of other parties during his brief tour. Bhim Singh, the Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party chief, offered the Congress conditional support. The PDF supported a Congress chief minister and a PDP deputy chief minister. Denying that the discussions had been futile, Dr Singh left Srinagar with all the suggestions gathered from Sayeed and co. Before leaving for New Delhi, he also visited the hotel where the Congress MLAs had stayed for the previous ten days, and sought their views. In case of a PDP-Congress alliance, 18 other independent candidates supporting the alliance demand ministerial posts. A Congress and PDP chief minister interchanging roles for three years each was also discussed as an ultimate compromise to resolve the ‘crisis’.

On October 22, after the deliberations in New Delhi, a dramatic turn took place as the Congress decided to “go it alone”. A formal announcement has been kept in abeyance, but the Congress leadership was said to have decided to try to form a government in Jammu and Kashmir. Briefing journalists after a three-hour meeting of senior leaders, Manmohan Singh said that a decision had been made, but refused to disclose it because it would be announced “shortly” by Sonia Gandhi.

According to the latest South Asia situation report by a leading geopolitical analytical firm, a flare-up over the Kashmir ‘issue’ is unlikely at present because the US is pressurizing India and Pakistan to practise restraint. “While the overall situation points to a continued albeit tenuous peace along the India-Pakistani border, the ability of both sides to prevent a major escalation of militant attacks, or at least the ability to mitigate their own responses to such actions, remained essential to avoiding another escalation of tensions between South Asia’s nuclear neighbours”, the report by Strategic Forecasting (StratFor) revealed on October 15. “The US has enough to worry about with Iraq and the ongoing hunt for al-Qa’ida. A flare-up along the Indo-Pakistani border would throw other US plans into jeopardy,” the report added.

On October 16, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), chaired by prime minister AB Vajpayee, decided to withdraw troops stationed on the international borders in Kashmir, Punjab, Rajastan and Gujrat since the “attack” on the Indian parliament on December 13 last year. However, it was decided that more than 120,000 troops stationed on the LoC would continue “on guard”. Also, on October 16, the Western Command general officer SS Mehta declared that troops at the international borders (with Pakistan) were “fully alert, strong and prepared to meet any eventuality”. “Indian army will give a befitting reply to the enemy”, said Lt. Gen. Mehta, while addressing a civil-military liaison conference at the western command headquarters near Chandigarh (Haryana).

On October 18 Robert Blackwill, the US ambassador to India, said, “The decision to pull back troops from the border by India and Pakistan is a very welcome development and a very major step in the right direction.” Addressing the press, Blackwill said that US had hoped for months that such a “substantial de-escalatory step” would take place. He also said that the election in Kashmir was “positive, credible, successful” and that US had made this clear in public. Blackwill also called for a “sustained, serious, specific” India-Pakistan dialogue, and said that the US could not “decide outcomes” on the issues that divided the South Asian neighbours. Asked if Washington had a view of a final Kashmir settlement, Blackwill said, “No. Only governments of India and Pakistan can answer that question. There are no blueprints in Washington... no mapsÖ no prescription in Washington on this score.”

On October 19 the APHC hailed Pakistan’s decision to re-deploy its troops in response to the measures taken by India. “It is definitely a move to de-escalate the tension between the two countries. At the same time, if the efforts are restricted to these steps only, then there would be no end to the continuing tension. The basic reason for tension is the Kashmir dispute and while negotiations take place in this regard, nothing would change on the ground,” the APHC spokesman said, urging both countries to make efforts to pave the way for peace.

Nisar Memon, Pakistan’s information minister, on October 21 expressed hopes of dialogue on Kashmir during Vajpayee’s proposed visit to Pakistan during the forthcoming SAARC summit (in Islamabad on January 11-13 next year). Addressing a press conference at the Hyderabad press club, Nisar called the withdrawal of troops by both India and Pakistan from the borders a positive step towards the next step of dialogue. “Pakistan is ready to talk with India on Kashmir and other issues,” Nisar added.

While discussions on the SAARC summit, withdrawal of troops and the issue of the ‘new’ chief minister go on, the administration of Kashmir is in chaos. The move to form the next government,’ which was supposed to have gained momentum with the announcement of the election results on October 10, has effectively ground to a halt. The only activity now is ‘horse trading’, elected representatives are believed to be demanding no less than $400,000 for their support to any alliance.

Whoever becomes the chief minister of occupied Kashmir will simply live the life of a political figurehead. As attempts to consolidate the Indian occupation of Kashmir and brutality on Kashmiri Muslims continue, the mujahideen will become more active and aggressive in their operations. The right to self-determination and the plebiscite promised by India and the UN in 1948 are the only ‘practical’ alternatives. Elections, Indo-Pak dialogues (excluding Kashmiris, of course) and “government formation”, are all futile exercises.

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