As Parliamentary elections are underway, different political parties are trying hard to polarise voters to fortify their interests. Ironically in Kashmir, democracy needs huge military presence to impose the rule of law on civilian cities, towns and hamlets on a daily basis for decades. Kashmir witnesses the ugly side of democracy, as observed by the head of the adhoc delegation to Kashmir of the European parliament, John Walls Cushnahan;” Kashmir is world’s most beautiful prison”. Since 1996, elections have gone hand in hand with the state of emergency. The state of emergency was imposed in 1990 when civil liberties were fully suspended, the military was granted broad immunity, and notorious task force which functioned beyond the purview of the law were created.
Holding elections in Kashmir has become a mundane exercise. Bus-loads of Indian paramilitary forces are brought in to join the tens of thousands who are already in place. The region is put into lockdown mode. Schools and colleges are occupied by the security forces that create a sense of insecurity among the people. As has become the new norm now, a communication blockage is imposed and internet shut down to prevent local voices to speak about real democracy.
Democracies empower people to make decisions. Real democracies don’t issue endless draconian laws like the Special Arms Act, Public safety Act. In a working democracy, we do not find people arrested and disappeared for good while family members still live in hope of seeing them again. For the family and friends of people who have allegedly been abducted, killed, raped or assaulted by unknown entities, the mental anguish is unending.
If elections are about democracy, there should be an occasion to discuss serious issues like poverty, deprivation, inequalities and custodial disappearances, land grabbing, power politics, youth unrest and radicalization or rights of people etc. Instead, candidates go after each other like fowl in a cockfight, and there is little genuine, in-depth dialogue or discussion on issues aforementioned. It is a tragedy for a democracy that justice for Kunan Poshpora victims is nowhere to be seen since decades. When is the last time we heard a decent multi-party discussion on these issues? What constitutes development and peace? And why it is that India’s rank on issues like hunger and malnutrition remains the lowest? Why people try to help militants to escape from encounter sites? Why radicalization among youth is increasing every passing day? If any person or media discusses these issues they are labelled as pro Pakistani and anti-nationals.
The recent two day ban on civilian movement on National highway for army vehicular movement is an example of how elections are preferred over people. If elections are heart of democracy, people are its blood. Democracy includes people to people contact as an important element. Democracy cares for its people and indulges political will to resolve issues of its people. Elections are not meant to bring a pack of power hungry wolves and let them enjoy at the cost of people’s lives.
If elections are held to make people powerful then; why even ambulances are not allowed to ply on National highway for two days in a week; why frisking of people and checking of vehicles has become a norm; why socio religious leaders have been arrested and shifted to different jails outside the state? Elections create a system of responsibility which is answerable before the people. Elections are not conducted to legalize the system’s corruption.
Nowadays, elections are far from being an expression of the people’s will; it is rather a process of legitimizing the continuation of mundane and corrupt system under the guise of “government elected by the people”. Karl Marx rightly says “Capitalism creates relationships of domination and subordination in the infrastructure; the dominant group which owns and controls the means of production always largely monopolize political power and its position is supported by laws which are framed to protect its interests and further its beliefs and values also reflect and legitimate the relations of production. Members of the ruling class produce dominant ideas in society. These conceal from all members of society the basis of exploitation and oppression on which their dominance rests. This ideology is the distortion of reality, a false picture of society. It blinds members of society to the contradictions and conflicts of interest that are built into their relationships”.
While the Indian policy makers continue to view Kashmir as’ law and order problem’, the situation is unlikely to improve. Tough security measures can succeed in limiting armed militancy but they don’t win hearts and minds of the people. A few Indian voices have spoken out urging a new approach on Kashmir – notably the novelist and social activist Arundhati Roy. Former defence minister P. Chidambaram also warned that India is on the brink of losing Kashmir. But unfortunately, nothing substantial has come out from the corridors of New Delhi.
Elections should be really the heart of democracy not poison for democracy. This is only possible if the people’s welfare could become priority in the system. Understanding the relationship between history and biography is what the great American Sociologist C. Wright Mills called Sociological Imagination. Here lays the solution of the problem.
(Author is a Researcher)