It is a fact that Raj Bhawan in Jammu and Kashmir underwent a discernible change since Satya Pal Malik was hurriedly called in from Bihar to take over as Governor of the embattled state on August 22.
In his seventh week in office, he has set a record of interviews with media. Prior to an interview with him for television last week, I drew comparisons between PMO and Kashmir’s Raj Bhawan. “For 10 years, the PM (Manmohan Singh) did not speak and then came a Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) who frequently speaks. And here also, we had a Governor (NN Vohra) who never spoke to media for 10 years and now he is followed by a talking Governor,” I told him. He smiled and declared that he would be talking only for a while.
On Thursday, Raj Bhawan issued the first ‘clarification’ on the utterances of Governor to settle a controversy over the election of Mayor for Srinagar city. In a recent interview, the Governor indicated that a foreign-educated young leader might emerge to be the new mayor of capital Srinagar. The Governor is apparently referring to Junaid Azim Mattu, who recently resigned from the post of spokesman of National Conference (NC) to fight the urban local body elections. The NC was the first mainstream party that announced staying away from the local body polls. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), CPM and other pro-election groups in Kashmir followed suit. The Congress and Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference are the known contestants apart from the BJP. Most of the candidates, independent or otherwise, have concealed their identity.
“Everything will change if we will go with election process. My information is that both the parties (NC and PDP) are regretting because in Srinagar they are getting a Mayor who is foreign educated; he is a young leader; if he emerges it will send jitters to these parties,” Governor said in the interview when he was asked if the administration couldn't have waited for some more time to get these two parties on board.
The Governor’s projection on City Mayor added a damning factor to the farcical exercise of municipal polls. The NC leadership says the hint has actually revealed Raj Bhawan’s partisan and dictatorial role. In the larger context, the credibility-deficit of institutions of election and democracy, hit a new low in Kashmir.
In the first two phases of municipal polls, the people have behaved exactly the way they were expected. The first phase held on October 8, gave a dismal turnout of 8.1 per cent in Kashmir Valley. The second phase was held two days later and it further reduced the percentage to 3.1. The interesting aspect of the low turnout is the comparatively lower levels of coercion from the leaders of pro and anti-election ideologies. Notwithstanding the impact of the mysterious killing of two NC workers in Srinagar and torching several panchayat buildings in the countryside, the separatist political leaders have not been able to run a practical anti-election campaign due to their incarceration or restriction on movement. The boycott seems to be largely voluntary and a consequence of disillusionment with the process that has become deep-rooted over the period of time.
The government, on the flip side, also tried to appear less aggressive. The employees were lured through a month’s additional salary for their polling duty. There were no reports of people being dragged to polling stations or subjected to nail parades as we have witnessed in past elections. On the ground, such coercive methods are not possible either, in the backdrop of situations we have been witnessing on the encounter sites. There is also the likelihood that every small incident of coercion would be recorded by the people and made viral through social media.
The Governor has been repeatedly admitting that past elections in Kashmir have been managed and rigged. He admits there is a lot of anger among the people, especially the youngsters. The admission is fine but he has no concrete way-out to address these issues. He harps on the old methods, which have repeatedly tested without evoking any tangible results except the management of particular situations. The dichotomy is while Governor admits the electoral frauds committed in the past, he is himself overseeing another chapter in this long history. The latest conduct of elections has only given an opportunity to the younger generation to see for them as to how the institutions of democracy and elections have worked in Kashmir. What they heard from elders and read in books is now happening in front of their eyes. It will have more impact on the bruised psyche of the younger generation born in the post 1990 tumultuous years.
Elections with tremendous participation of people generally replace chaos with a stable representative government. Sham elections do the reverse. The governments that have been formed in our part of the world have seldom been representatives of the aspirations of people. This is the reason that the elections have catapulted a class of people to the echelons of power that lacked firm base and acceptability in the public. The urban local body elections and subsequent panchayat elections in Kashmir will add to this chaos. The Kashmir management plan may turn another leaf but the situation on ground will complicate it further.