In yet another attempt to legitimize its rule, India is again trying to impose a ‘democratic’ poll on Kashmir. The first phase took place on 16 September and the second on 24 September; the polls end later this month. With coercion by security forces, election boycotts in general, a general strike by the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), and a spate of attacks by mujahideen, the first phase was ‘completed’ in five districts of Indian-occupied Kashmir on 16 September. Most of the polling booths in Pattan, Sangrama, Sapore and Baramulla were deserted. According to official sources, only 13 out of 958 voters voted at Delina polling station near Baramulla; in Pattan it was 15 out of 1298. “We will not vote at any cost. We will not allow the sacrifice of 80,000 people to go in vain,” said a resident of Bag-i Islam locality.
In Nutnusa on the Sapore-Kupwara road, long queues of voters complained that the army had forced them to come to vote. It is a common sight during elections: Indian troops herd Kashmiris to the polling stations at bayonet-point. No wonder the ‘democratic process’ in Kashmir is better known as “ballot by bayonet”.
At the three polling stations in Warapore the turnout was zero out of 2880. In the ten polling stations of Sapore town only 25 votes were recorded, from an electoral roll of over 9900. According to ‘official’ sources, booth 24 in Watpura bucked the trend, with 389 out of 842 voting, but APHC supporters claimed that the voting in Watpura was rigged, and that people whose names were not on the voters’ list had voted.
While elections and repression continue, Kashmiris have stood firm. Their sacrifice and struggle were not for rigged elections, but to end the occupation and hold the plebiscite that has been promised by India and the UN since 1948. Anything else can only aggravate the situation created by 700,000 Indian troops in an area of less than five million civilians.
India’s object is to impress the international community and to divert attention from the main issue, self-determination. The BJP-led government of India has also stated that the result of the elections will have more ‘implications’ this time, as the Indians will only invite members of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly to future ‘negotiations’. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, BJP general secretary and spokesman, said on 18 September, “What we want is talks with elected representatives in the framework of the Indian constitution.”
In its manifesto for these elections, the BJP has strongly favoured scrapping Article 370 of the Indian constitution. Article 370 grants “special status” to Jammu and Kashmir, which “acceded” to the Indian Union for three things: defence, foreign affairs and communications. This instrument of accession included the condition that the accession was provisional and would depend ultimately on the will of its people, freely expressed.
The BJP manifesto for these elections criticises the previous Congress government for incorporating Article 370 into India’s constitution, and accuses Jawaharlal Nehru (India’s first PM) of “another glaring blunder” in making the “unwarranted commitment for a plebiscite in Kashmir in order to finalize the states’ accession with the Union of India”. The BJP has also interpreted the demand for autonomy as a “Revised Version of the pre-independence Muslim League’s divisive and communal politics” and as “a cunning ploy diligently evolved to achieve the state’s independence in stages”. The manifesto is also against the trifurcation of the state into Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh.
Little wonder, then, that the Kashmiris are angry with India’s plans. On 11 September Mushtaq Ahmed Lone, minister of state for law, and three guards were killed in Kupwara district. Mohammed Shakeel, a Lashkar-e Tayyeba spokesman, told the Kashmir Press Service that an “anti-election squad” carried out the attack. Immediate steps were taken to cancel other election campaigns. Vajpayee, India’s PM, said that Lone’s assassination was an attempt to “sabotage” the elections in Kashmir.
On 12 September Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf condemned “Hindu fanaticism” at the UN General Assembly, and called on the international community to hold accountable those responsible for the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujrat. “Last February, an estimated 2,000 innocent Muslims were massacred in Gujrat with the complicity of the BJP state leader... The international community must act to oppose extremism with the same determination it displayed in combatting terrorism, ethnic cleansing and fascist tendencies elsewhere in the world,” he said.
He also said that India is trying to “de-legitimize the Kashmiri freedom struggle”, misusing the war against terrorism. Saying that the “conflict” in Kashmir was being waged by the Kashmiris, the General pointed out that India’s “planned elections” in Kashmir would again be rigged. “Such elections, under Indian occupation, will not help peace. The people of Kashmir must be allowed to determine their own future in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the UN security council,” Musharraf said.
On 13 September Vajpayee, speaking at the UN General Assembly session, used his address to answer Musharraf’s statements: “The recent communal violence in Gujrat was an aberration and the situation is now under control... We are still proud of the multi-religious character of our society.” He also argued that “murder of innocents” was not a “freedom struggle”, and accused Musharraf himself of being involved in rigging because he won the referendum in Pakistan on April 30.
Three days later, after a meeting with US president George Bush, Vajpayee said: “We felt it was... the first time that he [Bush] did not reiterate the need for dialogue with Pakistan”. Confirming that the US accepted India’s concerns about “cross-border terrorism”, the Indian prime minister said that an improvement in conditions after the elections could pave the way for dialogue on Kashmir. In answer to a question, Vajpayee denied that there had been any discussion with Bush about turning the Line of Control (LoC) into an international border.
The history of the 54-year Indian occupation in Kashmir is a tale of broken promises, state terrorism, fraudulent elections, tortures at interrogation centres, and massacres. The propaganda machine of the Indian establishment has tried consistently to degrade the struggle of the Kashmiri Muslims by attributing it to “Pakistan-sponsored terrorism”. The atrocities committed in Kashmir are rarely acknowledged. Another large group of victims, even more seldom mentioned, is the ‘disappearances’, who also run to tens of thousands.
Another factor that works against the jihad in Kashmir is the attitude of the 200 million Muslims in India, whose leaders tend to accept the official line that what is going on in Kashmir is “cross-border terrorism”, and proclaim that “Kashmir is an integral part of India”. Unfortunately, such is the condition of Muslims in the world that few voices of note are heard speaking the truth: that we must support the Kashmiri struggle and all others like it.