Author: Saadut
•8:20 PM

During the peak of militancy almost all pro Delhi politicians fled from the valley, escaping to warmer plains, having given up on their political future in Kashmir. Most of them were seen whiling away lazily in government provided accommodations outside the valley, descript and sans authority. Such was the contrast of fortunes that a ‘political hier’ who is nowadays known to change his SUV’s every six months (from his known ‘unknown’ sources of money), used public transport to commute like commoners in those powerless reclusive days in Jammu.  

During mid 1995 the Indian government wanted early elections in Jammu and Kashmir, a recommendation that was rejected by a three member Election Commission in November 1995, realizing that the conditions on ground were not conducive. While the situation in Kashmir remained the same, New Delhi pushed for sudden elections in 1996. The election notification was issued on 14th August 1996 (last date for nominations August 21, last date for candidature withdrawal August 24) and polls scheduled to start in the first week of September, 1996. This rush was seen as an attempt by India to legitimize its governance in Kashmir thru the very means that it had been rigging for decades and ironically these very reasons had ignited the militant rebellion in late 80’s. 

Since the election schedule was spread for almost a month (from mid August to September) the valley shut down for this entire period. There was absolutely no election fanfare to be seen in the valley, except for the odd ‘ferried gatherings’ in pro Delhi party offices, which were situated in garrisoned areas secured by Indian militaries. Even at the candidate level there was an evident reluctance towards these elections; came to fore that when a pro Delhi politician from Kashmir (now in power) refused to stand up for elections, agencies threatened to remove his security cover. Reluctantly he filed his nomination papers for these elections. 

In a north-eastern suburb of Srinagar, soldiers from the Indian paramilitary camp had for days been making frequent rounds of these habitations, preparing ground work for elections. On times when these militaries would be confined to their garrisoned and dreadful camps, armed to teeth renegades sponsored by the Indian state, would go around in small cavalcades, some with banners of pro India parties, other acting to frighten the locals. Early one morning on a bright summer day, when the vale had shut its doors to all activity and a civil curfew was being adhered to, morning announcements by these renegades were followed by columns of Indian paramilitaries marching the lanes of this suburb, with loaded guns to scare and herd unwilling people towards the polling booths. There seemed to be no age bar in this exercise; our neighbors three sons, all of who were school going kids, were also asked to proceed to the voter booth, as were many other kids in the neighborhood. Miraculously my family escaped this coercion; somehow the renegades and paramilitaries had skipped our home, after having slammed our main gate for quite some time which had been bolted from inside, and only leaving after breaking the gate lights that stood on its parallel pillars and hurling some stones towards our home (that hit the roof). In yet another time, the same renegades were responsible for kidnapping my Dad and uncle, releasing them only after a big ransom had been paid. Just a day after the kidnapping, ransom and release, an officer of the local paramilitary camp had come knocking, claiming his visit to be a good will one, but indirectly seeking details of the money paid. Ironically, these criminal renegades worked under the very control of this paramilitary unit. Conflict is a big enterprise, for all vultures and bounty seekers!  

Our neighbor towards the west, a renowned science professor, who refused to be herded to the polling station or be forced to vote, was dragged down his lawn and kicked around like a rag ball, his fair fat body later swelling in mounds of red and blue. Realizing that they could not succeed in moving the heavy bodied professor anymore, left him to nurse for his own wounds, with his wife sobbing in her well practiced manner. The professors face, with a hanging double chin, sagging cheeks now red, over a neck that competed with the size of his head, displayed a strange mix of emotions when I went to see him in the evening; that of anger against the renegades and paramilitaries and of a shameful contempt for his own helplessness.      

Blushing in contempt and abuse, commoners’ part of the herded crowd had experienced this shame so many times before; during torturous crackdowns by Indian forces when all civilian males of localities would be gathered like shepherd flock and driven by batons and gun butts towards the common playing field. The unlucky ones would be picked up and whisked away, of whom many never returned back. But today’s shame was different, in that they were being forced to do, what they never would want to do, an exercise they saw as being the root cause of a proxy state, that only legitimized this oppression. The initial contemptuous silence of this crowd soon melted away in the common humiliation they were walking towards. The loathing of this exercise was soon followed by the realization of futility of refusal, while an unrepentant military machine kept an eye on the herd. Converging into the local government school lawns where the election booth had been setup, this herd soon became a part of the other people who had been forced there. In this assemblage familiar faces met, recognizing a common discomfiture agony, and while queues were being ordered, someone in low voice suggested defiance to this humiliation “if we are to vote forcibly, why not vote for the unlikely one. Why not we vote for the BJP? After all, how are other candidates any different for us, than the proxy ones who are always put in power?” This suggestion ensured some faint smiles among the crowd, most nodding in acceptance. So, it was to be, many of these herded electorate would vote for the most unlikely candidate from among this proxy pack. Queues soon poured their anger into the implausible, pushing the unlikely into the ballot box, some like those kids who knew nothing of elections even stamping more than one candidates on their given ballot, thus invalidating the whole 'paramilitary force driven exercise'. Since the paramilitaries could not round up entire neighborhoods’, this ‘democratic exercise’ was over even before noon. According to later reports, in spite of such coercion by Indian militaries, the turnout was not more than 10% anywhere in the valley. As the coerced voters returned home, the humiliation of this day hung in the air for much time to come. Soon found out, in many other places too, coerced voters had ‘cast their votes’ to the most unlikely candidates in acrimonious outrage. A bigger surprise came on the results day, the BJP candidate in this suburb was declared to not have polled any significant votes and hence had even forfeited his deposit. All the ‘forced votes that sought to exercise defiance’ against rule of the proxy, had been erased or replaced in favor of those ‘nominated by New Delhi’. Like in past elections, at the end of the day India was more concerned about displaying voter head count, not to elect on voted votes.

In other interesting incident in downtown Srinagar, heard a candidate was declared to have won by almost four times the number of votes than were actually known to have been ‘polled’ there. 

Elections were always a game in Kashmir played by New Delhi with abundant cheat codes. 


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