Is vote in Kashmir for India?


Frustration, disillusionment, and anger are what characterize the pro-azadi camp in Kashmir nowadays. Frustrated, they should be, as the voting percentage is peaking in pattern. For them voting leads to single conclusion: legitimizing the Indian Occupation – brutal and repressive. But the point is; have Kashmiris really taken road to Indian state? Has institutional decay (Ganguly, 1996) in Kashmir been addressed so that Kashmiris now have a ‘choice to make’? If this is not the case, then, what is so different about this election that people have swung themselves into so called ‘pro Indian camp’? Psephologists, political scientists in Kashmir and other places, not to mention separatists, are perplexed by this turn around. Claiming that nothing is going to change for Kashmiris under post-colonial India, separatists call for boycott of elections. On the parallel side, Indian state makes much of every opportunity that such high poll percentage provides; Kashmiris have accepted legitimacy of Indian rule, or the legitimacy of Indian institutional structure. See the travesty: if pro-azadi camp looses bit in confusion, the other side pounces on it like panther on the prowl, like quick-hitting opportunist. Whether separatist or Indian, this reduction of voting to legitimization of Indian rule needs to be scrutinized for all fallacies on which it stands.

Though there might be some among the voters whose consent – express or tacit – lies with Indian sovereignty, but to majority of Kashmiris this vote is in no sense pro-Indian. For majority this vote can be anything but pro-Indian. Their journey to polling booth is riddled by dual consciousness of Du Bois – What will Indianess bless them with when their strategic life choices as Kashmiris are trampled? Put simply, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals (Du Bois 2008, 12). Their life acts are nothing but living the Ferguson incident daily. Much like Ferguson Verdict in which White dominated jury (9 whites and 3 African-Americans) cleared Officer Darren Wilson who shot Michael Brown (an African-American), Indian army back in January 2014 cleared its men in Pathribal Fake Encounter Case. Ferguson is Kashmir personified. The sufferings of Kashmiris as a ‘collective’ thus will never let off control on their conscience. When their souls are torn asunder between confronting nationalisms, their vote then cannot be called simply ‘pro Indian’! What is it then? How it can be accounted for?

First and foremost, the vote in valley has to be seen on binary of institutional vs. ethnic-valuational structure. Kashmiris as an ethnic group with subaltern political consciousness and mobilisation define the voting pattern on the ethnic identity. This ethnic identity is autonomous, and its insurgent space derives from the antecedent historical and valuational consciousness of ethnicity. The historical component has been the alien rule (that includes Indian rule as well) and valuational consciousness being Kashmiri identity or Koshur. The ethnie is, in short, the self conscious and subjective author of its own insurgency (Cockell 2000, 326). Thus they do not succumb to the institutional structure of State that controls them – multiparty democracy, judiciary – but despise such structures day in, day out. Those Kashmiris who stand in queues today won’t stop tomorrow to participate in the protests on streets. Thus ‘Koshur’ as subjective author of his insurgency can be democratic today, and staunch separatist tomorrow, or both at the same time. Indian machinations hardly have control over his subjective choices. No matter how fantasizing Indian promises are, in the end he will be Koshur, for Koshur is source of his definition of self. His political agency is defined by ethnic subjectivity that has been never been Indian, or for that matter Pakistani. The perpetual injustice in which both India and Pakistan have objectified Kashmiris for the definition of their secular and religious nationalisms respectively has solidified such ethnic subjectivity more strongly. It is ethnic subjectivity from which his definition of institutionalized structures (secularism, democracy) comes that is much different from ‘pro-Indian’ definition. Take for instance the case of Dr. Hina Bhat –BJP candidate from from Amirakadal constitutency, Srinagar. For the party she wants article 370 to be debated/abrogated (much an Indian nationalist line), but being Kashmiri she will pick a gun if article was ever to be abrogated. Also interesting to note is the way of Engineer Rashid whose previous stint as Member of Legislative Assembly signified ‘separatism channeled through the instituionalised democratic processes’. Now he has the new way; Hoisting National Flag of Kashmir, singing Kashmiri National anthem in the political rallies. This is the perfect example how ethnics impose new definitions to the institutions of a colonial state.

This re-definition, calls for a reproblematisation of the location of democratic political process which departs from statist presumptions of sovereign legitimacy (Cockell 2000, 339). Reproblematisation of democratic political processes rules out the idea that institutional decay and political engineering being addressed will motivate Kashmiris to vote. Rather their ethnic subjectivity defies every definition of institutions that comes from a state that colonizes them. Thus it has to be remembered that the nature of post-colonial Kashmiri ethnic nationalism is neither solely mobilized by instrumentalist political elites, nor primarily defined by the institutional hegemony of the Indian state or religious overtures of Pakistani state.

Second thing that needs to be seen is how the nationalism of yesteryears is being re-defined. Consider two instances. First, in the age of post-nationalism, the lack or separatism, or the ethnic violence – that Indian state might characterize as the rise of its acceptability in Kashmir – is no longer the parameter to measure national sentiment. Rather than this, nationalism is now seen in terms of how it works in daily interstices of life with different strategies. Rather than accepting nationalism in the traditional way, citizens now take Foucaultian approach in which they challenge or subvert the values and identities imposed on them (Foucault 2002, 329). Kashmiris personify Foucault in strong terms by measuring ‘sanity’ of Indian democracy through ‘insanity’ of killings, mass-disappearances, imprisonments that they have been subjected to by the same democracy. In addition, like ‘free-floating signifiers’ they will imbibe meanings, but emit ones unexpected of them. Take the case of National Conference (NC) and see how Foucaultian its strategies are! On the national scene, it will accept the accession, but simultaneously it does not accept merger and considers that Kashmir still is an issue to be solved. For National Conference like others, voting is about daily issues and not plebiscite. So, the value that India puts on the Indianess, with respect to National Conference, brings out a distorted form of ‘imposed national identity’. Omar Abdullah and cohorts thus straddle the dual consciousness no less than common Kashmiri, but even hold to it like Good Samaritans. Second is that now nationalisms are not defined in terms of approaches, but the subject matter (Breuilly 2005, 126) i.e. civic culture, public culture, public institutions, etc. So to see voting (that can be identified as part of public institutions) as the plebiscite for other domains will be an offensive conclusion. Take the case of Scottish referendum. If Scots voted in favour of the Britain that in no sense means that they have accepted the British nationality in the entirety. For them economic costs might have played in favour of Britain, but such costs in no way downplay importance of the having other subjects like parliament their own way. For them Scottish nationalism still stands its unique character, for they still live the life of ‘Bravehearts’. In such changing definitions of nationalism, taking vote as equivalent of plebiscite will be riding roughshod on nationalism to which India, like other nations, dearly holds. What further aggravates position of Indian state vis-à-vis Kashmir is that voting cannot be defined as plebiscite as stated by United Nations Security Council resolutions. By resolution 122, UNSC reaffirmed its earlier position (stated in resolution 91) that Constituent Assembly convened by All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference would not constitute disposition of the State in accordance with Plebiscite. So whatever form of elections India hold in Kashmir; fair, unfair, engineered, they in no sense are affirmation of plebiscite.

Continuing from the ethnic mobilisation is the political culture of Ethnies. Intellectual Pundits in India with fascination for ‘India defined kashmir’ will tell that Kashmiris have now become conscious voters and they know where their betterment lies. They have chosen to be Indian. The swell up in their numbers is clear indication of the ‘political consciousness and choice’, or in ‘positive political development’. But this rising political consciousness cannot be simply equated with political development. It is still bereft of adaptability, complexity, autonomy and coherence; qualities that characterize Insitutionalisation or political development (Huntington 1965, 394). Moreover, this rising political consciousness should not be confused participant-political culture. Rather it is marred by recurring currents of parochialism and subject-political participation. Take two instances – that of political sloganeering and familial voting pattern. The sloganeering hinges around two poles. One of praising the candidate or party, and other the most important one that kick starts campaigning: Naray Takbir Allahu Akbar. In some rallies slogans of yaha kya chalay ga nizam-e-Mustafa (only system as defined by Prophet Muhammad will work here) have also been heard. The religious coloring of the sloganeering is clear indicator that Kashmiris bear no testimony to Indian version of secular polity. In fact politics in Kashmir bases itself more on religious than secular tenets. Historically, Sheikh Abdullah grounded Kashmiri politics in religious colors by carrying his political campaign from Pathar Masjid and later from Dargah Hazratbal. Later day Sheikh’s show up in front row on eid day prayers not to let that legacy wane. Test this against Indian secular nationalism, with a slogan of Bharat Mata ki Jai in a political rally. There will be nothing to hear but pin-drop silence. Sixty years on Indian democratic structure has yet to create a political rally that will pass through streets of Kashmir praising India. So to call vote pro-Indian under such antagonistic conditions does not go well with the facts at ground.

Come to family-voting pattern. As noticeable in the villages and semi-urban dwellings (even within parts of Srinagar itself) family pressures to vote bear heavily on the individual choices. Considering the conservative leanings and patriarchal character of the Kashmiri society, the pressure exerted by family heads makes members to vote for whom political inclination of the contesting candidates hardly matters. (Intention here is not to make sweeping generalization but parochialism definitely adds to the percentage of the votes polled). The conservative disposition is more sedimented when it comes to women (Kashmir times, Nov 2014). The voters may vote for anyone who may be of any creed – Indian, Kashmiri or Pakistani. Put Kashmiris aside, in this age of post-state turn, voters have not remained participants in making a choice, but what Walter Lipmann would like them to be; bewildered herd,  “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” who should be mere “spectators of action” not participants in democratic process. (Lipmann 1925). It will be, thus, putting cart in front of wheel to call such political agency pro-Indian when its political choices are framed in culture of parochialism and subject political culture.

One more dimension to parochialism is the ethnic parochialism reinforced by the institutional apparatus of the Indian state. Rather than institutional acceptance and legitimisation of the nationalist parties with time, as the Indian version of Institutionalisation will tell us, reverse has happened in valley; reinforcement of the ethnic parochialism. Under ethnic parochialism, the faltering of National parties on the commitments (UN resolutions), ethnics (Koshur) are made to look more inwards than outwards. This is exemplified by the rise of Parties like PDP (after all self-rule is closer to plebiscite than accepting the dilly-dallying of Congress and BJP); Horowitz (1985) will call such elections/looking inwards in ethnicized populations as ‘racial censuses’. However looking inwards doesn’t signify the rise of competence, or probity of the ethnic party, but it does point to the fact that National Parties have not made inroads as they might have wanted. In cases where the national party candidate wins, it preferably is related to the winner quality of such candidate.

Fourthly, and most importantly the factor of ‘group security’ plays a most important role when it comes to the subaltern political mobilisation. This plays both at the local level and at the colonial relationship. At the national level, take the case of BJP. Congress Party already has its lessons whenever it stood on an agenda in opposition to Kashmir, for example in the election of 1977, popularly called as ‘only fair election’ people choose lesser evil (National Conference) over Congress, even when Indira-Sheikh accord concluded by NC’s Leader Sheikh Abdullah meant to Kashmiris as stab in the back. The patronizing of the communal votes by BJP in Jammu – a microcosm of communal orientation – directly contributes to the sense of ethnic belonging in the valley. No matter whom they vote for, their sense of BJP as a communal party plays a part in the turnout. And not to forget the foul intentions of BJP of playing with the last vestiges of article 370 which has ingrained itself in the psyche of Kashmiris. Thus while the BJP led Indian government is banking its cards on assimilation, Kashmiris define their political expression of identity in exclusionist terms. This contradictory political vocabulary makes one hard to accept that vote is in any sense legitimization of Indian rule in Kashmir. Group security at the local level plays itself in a different manner. Here candidates are measured in different terms of how well they balance the Kashmiri identity, domestic issues and religious identity. Over the period of time Kashmiri identity has taken different connotations. These connotations are preservation of the article 370, opposition to the separate homeland for Pandits in valley, concern over the environmental effects of the over-burdening amaranth yatra. So when politicians seek votes on these grounds, they in the process are actors for the preservation of indigenous identity that skews voting inclination away from India. Such assertions of the independent sociopolitical development, away from the processes and institutions of the Indian state are pointer of development that Kashmiris view their polity as a subjective, sovereign actor in a very political manner.

Separatist movement in subordination to the colonial rule is inevitably discontinuous and ridden by divisions on account of heterogeneity of society. So if we see high percentage of voting in certain areas, it is no indication that such voting in high percentages has given a green signal to the Indian occupation. More to the voting in the conflict territories is the psychology in which intermittent temporary adjustments are sought by people for the survival but not the long term commitment to alien rule.

Finally, power vacuum has to be filled. People at such times as utility maximizers do not choose to fill in politicians that will put them in worse off conditions. Even in mainland India or other countries, people now see nationalism as a primitive left over that has to be shrugged off. For the periodical voting is not about rejuvenating nationalism but to bring in lot that puts them in better position [filling the power vacuum in effective manner]; economic or social. Kashmiris in the current context see this voting in the same vein. Imagine that in valley a political party stands for full integration of Jammu and Kashmir. What would be its reception among the voters? The number of seats that BJP wins from valley will be the answer. So to vote is not exactly choosing the best, but to keep the worse off from inheriting the power.

It is thus manifest that Indian way of looking voting as legitimization of its position is nothing but putting down standpoint epistemology as dead rubber. This way repeats the colonial approach in which “recognition of different positionings to see world differently, or from perspective of colonized” brings for colonizer nothing but foundational challenge to much valued colonial fortifications. In stand-point epistemology, the only way to approach ‘the truth’ is by a dialogue between people of differential positionings (Yuval-Davis, 1999). It is likely that India will never want to relive that truth (truth of differential power positioning of separatists and itself, truth of Plebiscite), for fear of not only about losing kashmir but also shaky democratic narrative (an important ingredient of its soft power projection) that it has banked upon to hold Kashmir back (See Yuval-Davis’ Transversal Politics for importance of each positioning). This rigidity of reducing voting to plebiscite by India leaves Kashmiris with no choice, but to fall back on the source of self; Koshur. Condemned to bare life Koshur from morning to evening sees contradictions in Indian democracy. These days such contradictions are more colorful when in the day he is looked as a ‘potential terrorist’ by Indian army and in the evenings as an ‘Indian democrat’ by news hour debates of Indian media. Ethnies including Kashmiris, in such manifest contradictions, know well that ‘repression and ‘democratization’ cannot go together.’


Latief Ahmad Dar is a PhD scholar in Political Science at the University of Hyderabad and Fayaz Ahmad Dar is an Assistant Professor, Department of History, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.


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Photograph by Shahid Tantray



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