Exclusive: J&K: What do Elections Mean Without Statehood?
Close on the heels of the three-hour meeting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his core team held with leaders of Jammu and Kashmir, which he said was aimed at removing "Dilli ki Doori as well as Dil Ki Doori" there seem to be a further distancing move underway.
The Delimitation Commission, led by Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra, is set to visit the Union Territory from July 6 to July 9. According to media reports confirming this visit, the EC and his team will “interact with all stakeholders” this includes political parties, administrative officials, and “public representatives”. A meeting was held recently that was chaired by Delimitation Commission Chairperson Justice (retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai and Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra, where the decision to visit Jammu and kashmir was finalised, stated media reports. According to Indian Express “the commission will interact with political parties, public representatives and Union Territory administration officials including district election officers/deputy commissioners of 20 districts of the UT to gather first hand information and input concerning the ongoing process of delimitation as mandated under the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019.” It added that it was “expected” stakeholders will “cooperate” so that “delimitation is completed timely.”
At the meeting with the PM J&K politicians Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah, Kavinder Gupta, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Nirmal Singh, Tara Chand, Mohd Altaf Bukhari, Sajad Gani Lone, Ravinder Raina, Gulam Ahmed Mir, Mohd Yousuf Tarigami and Bhim Singh had attend and most had sought the restoration of statehood of Jammu and Kashmir. "We kept 5 demands in the meeting- grant statehood soon, conduct Assembly elections to restore democracy, rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in J&K, all political detainees should be released and on domicile rules," said Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad after the meeting. Then, PM Modi, had said J&K’s statehood would be restored "at an appropriate time" and asked the political parties to get on board with delimitation or the redrawing of assembly constituencies to enable elections. He had said: “Our democracy’s biggest strength is the ability to sit across a table and exchange views”
Amit Shah echoed the PM, saying “peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in parliament.”
However, it is now clear that it is the delimitation exercise and subsequent polls in J&K that are the priority for the Centre. No Commitments have been made on restoration of statehood at all. Senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, who is Convenor and Spokesperson of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration spoke exclusively to SabrangIndia on the issue, and also on the Sikh community’s concerns in the state. Here are excerpts from the conversation:
The talks with the Prime Minister have not worked?
The talks would have worked. Should have worked. Had there been some sort of a response from those who matter. Mere listening and hearing is not sufficient. Mere talking is not sufficient. Of course we went with little expectation that some response would be there. Delimitation was already going on. Elections are not a favour! The least should have been some sort of a positive signal towards restoring full fledged statehood as home minister, Amit Shah had committed to in Parliament. They (Centre) again ‘reassured’ us that statehood can be restored but at an appropriate time. My point is if we can wait for statehood for an appropriate time then we can wait for elections as well.
Without statehood elections will be symbolic?
The exercise will not have any credibility. The process itself will get affected. During Panchayat elections, the electoral process are different. For elections to the Legislative Assembly, people expect the restoration of political rights.
What is your response to allegations of forced conversions by the Sikh community in Kashmir?
As far as the relation [between] the minority Sikh community and the majority Muslim community in Kashmir, even in the hard times there were no problems at such except that unfortunate incident of Chittisinghpura where Sikhs were killed. That might have been the handiwork of terrorists, milliants, one does not know. This massacre should have been investigated thoroughly and the facts should have been put in the open.
But as far as day to day life is concerned, even in areas like Tral, which is said to be a hotbed (of militancy), Burhan Wani hailed from there. Even in those times in 2016 and before, ask any Sikh citizen who lives here, how was the behaviour of the majority community?
Tell me can the majority community or its leadership afford to go in for such things? Who will it help? Only those who want to divide people. Maybe extremists elements, from this side as well. This type of a situation does suit those who hold power, who have a divisive agenda in my view, who will try and make use of this.
You are saying divisive, as well as a diversion? Because there is nothing concrete to give to the people?
This is my hunch, I don't have anything substantial to prove it yet. But see the track record. Such episodes are required by them… some sort of a diversion.
The phrase ‘love jihad’ has never really been heard so loudly from the Sikh community…
Never ever. They are [now] giving two instances. One of the girls has said on video that this is not the case. It was in 2014, they were classmates and they got married. Such things happen sometimes.
The second case however is different, abduction, conversion has been alleged. No one is talking about the victim, but only about politics and 'love jihad'. What is the solution?
Yes. There is politics, there is little concern for the victim. That is not seen. I will certainly meet the victim and her family. I cannot expect anything from the administration, but I can expect something from the community leadership. That is important.
What about the Sikh communty’s fears now?
Who does it serve now? Those who are seeking relief from the government of india? Who feels victimized? Why will they go for this? Sikhs have been friendly, it is not as if any animosity was there. Even politically there was no divide. Sikhs have never done anything to irritate any section of the majority. I appreciate their very dignified conduct, during this whole turmoil we have faced as a community.
Should not the majority muslim community speak up?
Yes, the majority community should speak up. They must do it more vocally. Our Sikh brethren must come out and feel reassured that, like before, we can live in peace [in Jammu and Kashmir] and we will continue to do so. And also that such unfortunate incidents cannot divide us and our age-old relationships.. If the BJP has something to offer to the people let them, they have the mandate to rule, let them. My only appeal to the leadership is that they must not encourage tendencies which can divide people. I have already spoken to the administration. Besides administrative measures, the Muslim majority must re assert itself and come forward in defence of the genuine concerns, if any, of the Sikh community.
Comparisons will also be drawn with what happened to Kashmiri Pandits…
That is why I am saying this. Kashmiri Pandits have left, in the same atmosphere when I was forced to leave. I was the first person in 1989 who succeeded in escaping and reaching Jammu. Kashmiri Pandits also opted to escape, leave, not out of choice, it was fear. They had no other option expected to take shelter elsewhere.
I have this apprehension and concern that the ruling dispensation has an agenda, the political direction --as such laid down --that is divisive. My guess is more and more division, more and more divisive approaches will be adopted vis a vis Kashmir, Jammu. That seems to be the only thing they can offer to the people.
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