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Posted: June 25, 2001

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Perspective

 
Kashmir: A History Littered With Rigged Elections

by Mushtaq A. Jeelani

For the past fifty-two years, India has vigorously and adamantly argued that participation of the Kashmiri people in the electoral process in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir has been a substitute for a plebiscite to be held in accordance with the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions.

The electoral boycott challenged India’s manipulative electoral history in the disputed region. Almost the entire population resisted threats of violence if they refused to participate. The Kashmiri people have demonstrated time and again that they will only accept a UN-sponsored and supervised vote to determine their future.

So once again, India’s fraudulent elections in occupied Kashmir turned out to be a complete failure and signaled the beginning of the end of India’s occupation.

Deception

On Monday October 27th, 1947, while deploying the troops in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, India proclaimed that it will restore normalcy in the region and allow the Kashmiri people to exercise the right of self-determination in accordance with their freely expressed will, unhindered by any threat of internal disorder or external aggression. Deceitfully, India did exactly the opposite. New Delhi tried to gradually strengthen its grip over the area by means, fair and foul, unmindful of its international commitments that the future of the disputed territory shall be determined by the people in a UN-supervised plebiscite.

Historical records demonstrate that elections in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir have never been free and fair. During the past fifty-two years, the people of Kashmir have helplessly watched as so-called public representatives, puppet legislatures and puppet Governments were formed and then thrown out while the dissenters have been kept at bay through the abuse and misuse of law and law-enforcing agencies.

At the UN Security Council, during the debate on Resolution 91 (1951) concerning the India-Pakistan question, which was submitted jointly by the representatives of the United Kingdom and the United Sates of America, and adopted by the Security Council on March 30th, 1951, the Indian representative, B.N. Rau, assured the Council that his government’s view is that while the "Constituent Assembly" may, if it so desires, express an opinion on the question of the future disposition of the State, it cannot act upon it.

Resolution 91 (1951) Dated March 30th, 1951, states: Observing that the Governments of India and Pakistan have accepted the provisions of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan resolutions of August 13th, 1948, and January 5th, 1949, and have reaffirmed their desire that the future of the State of Jammu and Kashmir shall be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations,

Observing that on October 27th, 1950, the General Council of the "All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference" adopted a resolution recommending the convening of a Constituent Assembly for the purpose of determining the "future shape and affiliations of the State of Jammu and Kashmir"; observing further from statements of responsible authorities that action is proposed to convene such a Constituent Assembly and that the area from which such a Constituent Assembly would be elected is only a part of the whole territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

Reminding the Governments and authorities concerned of the principle embodied in its resolutions 47 (1948) of April 21st, 1948, 51 (1948) of June 3rd, 1948, and 80 (1950) of March 14th, 1950 and the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan resolutions of August 13th, 1948, and January 5th, 1949, that the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations,

Affirming that the convening of a Constituent Assembly as recommended by the General Council of the "All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference" and any action that Assembly might attempt to take to determine the future shape and affiliation of the entire State or any part thereof would not constitute a disposition of the State in accordance with the above principle,

Declaring its belief that it is the duty of the Security Council in carrying out its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security to aid the parties to reach an amicable solution of the Kashmir dispute and that a prompt settlement of this dispute is of vital importance to the maintenance of international peace and security…

New Delhi, contrary to the Security Council Resolution 91 (1951), appointed all the members of the so-called Constituent Assembly and declared them elected. Fraudulently, India had forced Sheikh Abdullah, President of the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, to declare accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India. He, however, resisted and was arrested sparking widespread protest. In an attempt to control the protest, the Indian army killed more that 100 civilians and arrested thousands.

Sheikh Abdullah and his close associates founded the "Plebiscite Front" - a new party to demand Kashmiris right of self-determination. In January 1958, Sheikh was released, however his vocal support for a UN-sponsored plebiscite led to his re-arrest in April the same year.

Elections were again held in 1957 and 1962. On each occasion the Indian-sponsored All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference was declared victorious winning nearly all the seats uncontested.

Following a pro-plebiscite demonstration in Srinagar in October 1967, the entire opposition leadership was arrested and the government of Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq was declared re-elected almost entirely.

India’s manipulative elections in the disputed territory have offered no choice to the people of Jammu and Kashmir to determine their future affiliation in accordance with the UN resolutions. Moreover, elections in the occupied territory have always been staged, rigged and controlled.

Not a single member that was elected in these fraudulent elections to the Legislative Assembly or to the Indian Parliament have genuinely reflected the opinions, desires, urges and grievances of the people of Kashmir.

The government machinery was consistently used every time to help Indian agents tamper with ballot boxes and thereby enable polling officers to declare the victory of an official candidate.

New Delhi’s reckless attempts to control the disputed territory through rigged elections has only served to fuel resentment among the Kashmiri population. In March 1987 the Kashmiri people reluctantly participated in elections, but massive vote rigging and intimidation of candidates didn’t convince them it could work.

Since then, the people of Kashmir have overwhelmingly boycotted Indian organised elections conducted under the barrel of the gun. In the November 1989 election, no more than 3 per cent participated. In the May1996, when elections were held for the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, people were dragged to the polling stations by Indian forces. India Today confirmed it in its June 15th, 1996 issue: "the election were being rigged once again. Ballot boxes were not being stuffed like they were in 1987 when Farooq Abdullah had gone overboard to ensure the defeat of the Muslim United Front (MUF) candidates.

The September 1996 elections were again massively boycotted: "The people of the Kashmir valley are not in favour of elections. This was demonstrated through anti-election demonstrations in Pulwama, Tral and Srinagar … in Pulwama, not even a single vote was polled until 12:30 pm. In many centres in Anantnag, the poll percentage was less than 6 per cent by 4:00 pm, one hour before polling ended," reported The Times of India on Saturday September 28th, 1996.

A well-known Kashmiri Hindu and prominent political commentator on Jammu and Kashmir, Prem Nath Bazaz, said: "…to hoodwink world opinion and silence the democratic forces in the state, elections were periodically staged, but India had the final say in who got in, extent of rigging and the supply of funds."

Elections 1999 and the Media

The polling for six Lok Sabha seats in Jammu and Kashmir was carried out in four phases. In Srinagar and Ladakh constituencies on Sunday September 5th, in Jammu and Udhampur on Saturday September 11th, in Baramullah on Saturday September 18th, and in Islamabad (Anantnag) on Monday October 4th.

The boycott of voters that began with the polling in Srinagar on Sunday September 5th, 1999, continued up until the final phase of Anantnag constituency on Monday October 4th.

"NC sets new record in rigging poll," wrote: The Kashmir Times on Monday September 6th: "Taking full advantage of the poll boycott, the ruling National Conference [NC] managed to cast large number of bogus votes not only in this city but in other parts of Srinagar-Budgam Lok Sabha constituency, as well. The ruling party legislators and ministers had to rely on their bogus voters, most of who were not even from the Srinagar constituency, to make the son of their boss victorious. Some burqa [veil] clad women also formed part of the ruling party’s force. They enjoyed the day as they travelled in Sumos, Gypsies and mini buses from one polling station to the other and cast as much votes as possible…"

"Vote swings in the valley," wrote an editorial The Hindustan Times on Wednesday September 8th: "Of course, it is not enough to say that the low turn-out was a product of the cynical attitudes which come so easily to the urban middle class population. On the other hand, if one were to argue that it was a response to the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) call for a boycott of the vote, it would be interesting to see how it had worked out on the ground."

"Kashmir stays away," wrote The Asian Age in an editorial on Thursday September 9th: "The security forces efforts to bring out voters at gunpoint is particularly regrettable and deserves to be condemned by all democratic forces. It is true that the collective mistakes of the politicians over the years has placed Kashmir in a show case for the international scrutiny but these vulgar methods cannot be conducive to peace in the long run."

"Message of poll boycott," wrote: The Kashmir Times in an editorial on Thursday September 9th: "…In the report of the people present there, that unprecedented rigging had been resorted to for ensuring the victory of the chief minister’s son then one is left with uncomfortable feeling that not even 10% of the voters have cast their votes. In the first place this extreme low turnout indicates the depth of alienation of the common Kashmiri, cutting across scarcely visible, ethno denominational barriers."

"Value of Apathy," wrote: The Telegraph in an editorial on Thursday September 9th: "The results from the crucial Srinagar constituency, the geographical heart of Kashmiriyat, represent a setback for hopes of overcoming Kashmiri alienation. Srinagar town itself has been written off by most parties as a lost cause, so strong is public apathy and the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference’s influence. Disturbingly this apathy now seems to have spread to the constituency’s rural segments - traditional National Conference strongholds. Pakistan has already started ‘congratulating’ Kashmiris for the low turnout. However, the United States has declared its faith in India’s democratic record. Unfortunately, the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir State have not helped matter by clumsily having soldiers force voters into poll booths. This will serve to discredit even the minimal turnout."

"Jammu voters are fed up with politicians," wrote: The Kashmir Monitor on Wednesday September 15th: "The lowest ever turnout in the September 11th, polling for the two parliamentary constituencies in Jammu region have indicated that the people in general have lost faith in the present democratic system and are fed up with the false promises of the various political leaders…"

The Kashmir Monitor on Thursday September 16th: "Former [Indian] Home Minister and the People’s Democratic Party Chief Mufti Mohammad Syed has alleged a nexus between the governments at the centre [India] and the state [Kashmir] to declare the National Conference candidate from Srinagar constituency Omer Abdullah victorious in the just bygone Lok Sabha polls.

"Talking to reporters in Srinagar on Tuesday [September 14th] Mufti said that the rigging which Farooq Abdullah’s government resorted to in the Srinagar polls was even worse than the one in 1987. State Task Force and SPO’s were used in rigging the elections, he said. Adding that the official machinery was brazenly and openly misused by the National Conference legislators and ministers who captured the booths and indulged in bogus polling."

"For J-K villagers, ink-mark is all that counts," wrote Muzamil Jaeel for The Indian Express on Sunday September 19th: "It is polling day in Pattan, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah seems to have kept his word uttered at an election rally here a few days back - most of the villagers have been forced by the army to vote or face the consequences in the evening.

"‘Since it is harvest time, I had left for the fields early in the morning. But the army men stopped me and asked me to go to Pattan to cast my vote. I had to walk more than four kilometres to reach here,’ testified Mohammad Sultan Dar, 55, a farmer of Mandeyar, a village on the outskirts of Pattan town, who was not allowed to cast his vote - somebody had done it for him. But he was happy with the indelible ink mark on his finger. ‘They (army men) will come in the evening to check out fingers. I am safe now,’ he said."

Pamela Constable, a reporter with The Washington Post wrote (October 4th, 1999): "Many Kashmiris, however, have shown no interest in elections, insisting that the Indian government must instead allow them a long-promised referendum on independence. Voter turnout last month in Srinagar, where opposition groups had called for a boycott, was less than 12 per cent. In north Kashmir, turnout was a bit higher, but there were widespread reports of soldiers dragging people to the polls.

"In Anantnag, a conservative farming area, many people said they too had little confidence in the electoral process and did not intend to vote. Most said they feared the army more than rebels, but the steady reports of sabotage at police posts and on campaign routes - along with thousands of extra troops patrolling the roads - have lent a tense and ominous mood to the final days before the election."

The Indian Express reported (Sunday October 10th): "What do you do when you don’t want to vote but need your finger inked so that the army jawan [soldiers] who comes checking your nail in the evening, leaves you alone? Well, you do what a record number of voters in the three Lok Sabha constituencies in Kashmir valley did this time. They either left their ballots untouched or they stamped on several symbols to render their votes invalid. And walked out with their finger inked and ready for the ‘nail parade’ later in the day.

"In fact, when these ballot boxes were opened, counting officers had to not only contend with hordes of invalid votes but also with a dozen ‘letters’ from angry voters complaining of coercion by security forces and criticising the ‘corrupt and indifferent’ administration."

The APHC termed polling "a dramatic enactment that proved to be an absolute fiasco" - the people of Kashmir rejected it by abstaining from exercising their right to vote.

Mr. Syed Ali Shah Gilani, Chairman of the APHC, while briefing reporters condemned attempts by pro-Indian political parties and various other agencies to confuse and mislead the population and the international community by propagating that only the poor have suffered during the current freedom struggle. He said that all the segments, classes, and strata of Kashmiri society irrespective of their caste creed and economic classes have offered sacrifices for the freedom movement. Once again, the Kashmiri people have demonstrated that nothing less than the right of self-determination was acceptable to them.

Mr. Gilani thanked the people for showing solidarity with APHC’s election boycott programme. "The poll boycott should be an eye-opener for New Delhi and it should learn a lesson from this experience as people have again reposed their faith in the APHC and boycotted the poll."

He underscored that the APHC was the guardian of 60,000 people, who laid down their lives for the motherland. "Now the people have again proved that they will not compromise with the sacrifices of the 60,000 martyrs. They have renewed their pledge that they will not ally with the forces who have raped their women, killed their dear ones and maimed their beloved." Adding that the people do not accept the elections or selections held under the Indian Constitution and guns.

Nevertheless, leaders of the APHC urged New Delhi to accept democratic defeat in Kashmir. The people of Kashmir have made their verdict heard loud and clear and that means India’s presence in the disputed region is no longer acceptable.

The Boycott

Because of India’s dirty and manipulative tactics to tighten its grip over the territory since its invasion in 1947, elections in Kashmir have become a last resort to send a clear message to New Delhi and the international community that the people of Kashmir reject India’s presence in Kashmir. Since 1951 India has claimed that by participation in elections the people of Kashmir have exercised their right of self-determination. Although, a vast majority of the Kashmiri people have always boycotted these fraudulent elections, this time they wanted to make a bigger show out of the boycott. As a result, the turnout in many areas was a mere one per cent; five votes were cast in Sopore and none at all at many other polling stations.

Thus the boycott was a clear vote of no confidence not only against New Delhi, but also against those parties contesting the election under India’s illegitimate rule.

Ignoring dire threats of violence for non-participation, the people persisted and the Indian authority had no choice but to put the entire leadership of the APHC behind bars in the middle of the campaign.

The boycott demonstrates just how alienated Kashmiris are from India. The boycott has reiterated the determination of the Kashmiri people to continue the struggle for their right of self-determination. It has further strengthened the belief that the liberation struggle is indigenous.

The Indian media have also confirmed that elections in Jammu and Kashmir were farcical and meaningless. Therefore, elections held under Indian-occupation were neither an expression of the free will of the people of Kashmir nor a substitute to the free and impartial plebiscite to be conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. These elections have no validity under international law.

The Outlook

The ongoing uprising in the Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir is a direct result of India’s persistent refusal to allow the implementation of the UN resolutions, which call for a "UN-supervised free and impartial plebiscite."

Since October 1989’s massive revolt against Indian occupation, New Delhi has adopted a liquidation approach to suppress each and every individual voice of dissent. Impunity has become a licence for Indian troops to wreak havoc with the lives of the Kashmiri people. The escalation of New Delhi’s bloody repression is an attempt to muzzle and terrorise the people of Kashmir.

During the past fifty-two years India and Pakistan have been locked in a dead-end negotiation position, talks about talks, exchange of non-papers and breakdown of talks. The delay in finding a peaceful solution is causing unprecedented suffering only to the people of Kashmir.

The movement for self-determination in Kashmir cannot be categorised as secessionist. Nor could a parallel be drawn between the freedom struggle in Kashmir and the separatist movements in different parts of India. The question in Kashmir is simply that of fulfilling a commitment made long ago by the Indian government to the Kashmiri people as well as to the international community. The following are some of the points that bring out the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir, the distinctiveness of this issue, and its international dimensions:

  • Kashmir has always been recognised as a disputed territory. There are international obligations agreed to by India and Pakistan over the future of the region.
  • The UN Security Council remains in a hiatus on Kashmir.
  • The presence of the United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan along the ceasefire line as distinguished from an international border clearly indicates the disputed nature of the Jammu and Kashmir.

It is universally known that force, however, dreadfully and brutally applied, cannot stamp out the will and spirit of a people struggling for their basic rights. At the most, it can suppress for a temporary period their active struggle. But no sooner than the grip of the occupying power is loosened somewhat that the movement for emancipation resumes its own course and momentum in no time. By making Kashmir a garrison area, India simply cannot hope to resolve the issue.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee needs to follow the lead of the wartime leader of "Free France" Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle realised that war against Algerian independence was un-winnable. In 1959 he announced his intention of allowing the Algerians to choose between independence and continued association with France. Despite two unsuccessful coups against De Gaulle by some extremist army generals in 1960 and 1961, the French government arranged a referendum in July 1962 in which Algerians voted overwhelmingly for independence.

The world community’s approach to this long-running dispute of Jammu and Kashmir has been, by and large, to ignore it. India and Pakistan are now entrenched on either side of the ceasefire line. The two countries have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir. Moreover, the 11-year-old revolt against India’s rule in occupied Kashmir has claimed an estimated 60,000 lives, but it has not changed New Delhi’s stubborn approach towards finding a peaceful solution. India, somewhat, has succeeded in its arrogances, because of western industrialized nations’ love for its rapidly growing economy.

Today, the Kashmir conflict is flanked with nuclear weapons. The stalemate could trigger a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, which will lead to more instability in the region with serious global repercussions. The international community has a moral obligation to impress upon India that sending more troops to Kashmir will make the situation worse. The need of the hour is that New Delhi honor its commitments to the Kashmiri people and respects their wishes by allowing them to choose their future. More particularly, the western industrialized nations must take a leadership role in bringing an end to the conflict.

Mr. Mushtaq A. Jeelani is Executive Director of the Kashmiri-Canada Council, a non-profit, Toronto-based, non-governmental organization.

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