Author: The Speaking Chinar
•10:59 PM

‘Searching for sugar man’ was 2012 movie where two South Africans set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero (1970’s mysterious rock 'n' roller Rodriguez). The protagonist who has had two albums in Detroit, which never sold, became a hit of sorts in later years in distant South Africa. Except for the title, there is no other similarity between this movie and my search for the ‘area MLA’ who offered ‘sugar candies’ before elections and then fled. 

The previous to current MLA from my area was pushed by luck and plucked by his ‘Qaid’, during the peak days of insurgency in Kashmir. This gentleman was among the very few from his political party, back then not even a contender for any leadership post, who stayed back in Kashmir. You would only hear his name in the evening local DD news bulletin, one among the heap of various statements issued by lower rung pro Delhi politicians, made from the comfort of their secured homes. And when elections were ‘managed’ in Kashmir, post 90’s, some of these lower rung politicians made it big, as loyalty rewards points, by securing a seat to the power corridors. During the peak of insurgency in Kashmir, conflict gave an excuse to the government for being unaccountable to commoners. Being unknown to the greater constituency these politicians claimed to represent, and commoners giving more priority to saving own lives under a military state, civil governance was relegated to a private affair, a personal political consortium of sorts. When this gentleman was ‘elected’ to his second stint, the government unexpectedly changed, landing him in opposition. It was then, one of his close associates (while he may deny any association, the two were publicly seen together and enjoyed close relations) was arrested on charges of running a stolen cars business and put under PSA. No amount of political clout could save the (in) famous car ‘dealer’, who had till then accumulated huge fortunes. In both the stints as MLA, while he would be visible in the constituency, having shifted his residence from his modest dwelling in old city to a palatial house in constituency outskirts, development was virtually limited to his doorstep, with major areas seeing zilch of any progress. I remember then, the only time I would see him was when armed men in his escort vehicles would shout and push their way through traffic, lesser mortals jostled aside. But his power fortunes took a dip in the last elections, when his ‘Qaid’ selected this constituency as a ‘safe seat’ for own brother.

It was during these last elections; those held under extremely volatile conditions, that we saw the prospective MLA in our constituency. His party ‘Qaid’ along with coterie had descended at the ex-MLA’s house to declare the shift of constituency candidate, leaving the host looking stunned and sacrificial. Soon after, a ‘sponsored’ party rally drove the prospective MLA across main roads, announcing his arrival loud. Unlike in many other constituencies, the prospective MLA did not toil for seeking votes in our constituency, nor did he move beyond a few political pockets those had been groomed and programmed for political validation. Was this because of an understanding that, while majority electorate would continue with their poll boycott, these groomed pockets would ensure a certain win? And expectedly, in view of a major poll boycott coupled with a weak opposition, the prospective MLA, member of the elite political family, won.

Interestingly, many weeks before the elections, a voter I-card exercise had been undertaken by the government across the city. While many election I cards were delivered at other places, such cards had not been delivered in most homes of my neighborhood, including of my family. And it was only days after voting was over, that these cards were delivered by the local ‘moqdamm’ (sarpanch), who was known to have allegiance with the MLA’s party. Not that I intended to vote, but found later that my vote, including that of my family, had been cast during elections. Ironically most of them, including of my neighbors, carried major mistakes in name and other particulars, pointing to the pathetic processes of data collection, validation, delivery and dubious end use of these election cards. 

During the 2008 Amarnath land agitation, the valley shut for long as Jammu enforced an economic blockade of Kashmir, refusing even delivery of baby food or critical medicine. One of those fateful days, when all supplies at home stood exhausted, I braved out in search for some food. At the square ahead of my home, some among the protesting youth came chasing, aiming stones at my car shattering the windshield. With no option to retreat, I held my spot, watching in dismay some among these young men dashing at me, fists raised and shouting “Where the hell are you going? Don’t you need azadi?” My “I need food for my family first” remained unheard in their cries, forcibly being turned back home, empty. Months later when assembly elections were announced, I saw some of these very boys, who lived in ‘politically groomed pockets’ canvassing for two independent candidates (they would take money from both), and yet on election day came to know that they had voted for the ruling dispensation, our invisible MLA. In 2010, some of the same young men, from the ‘politically groomed pockets’, became targets of state violence, yet their MLA never bothered about them nor gave any audience to their families.

For coming years our MLA forgot the constituency he belonged to, we never heard from him again. The area continued to be pushed to nonexistence with pot holed and narrow roads, precariously leaning electric poles those seldom carried any electricity, sinking dark lanes, pathetically anarchic administration and detachedly impervious political class. 

Some years back Srinagar city suddenly witnessed a boom of ‘community centers’, promoted by politicians as some kind of ‘development model’. I am not sure what kind of ‘development model’ do such mass produced community centers offer when more critical infrastructure in these constituencies continues to be ramshackle and in ruins. Surprisingly the only occasion that our constituency MLA was reported to show up, was when one such ‘community centre’ was to be inaugurated in the ‘groomed political pocket’ that he had used last elections to prop up votes. Two years down since, the community centre lies abandoned skeleton of a building without any roof, doors or windows; a grim resemblance of the hollow political system that mass produced such farce ‘development models’. Many a delegations from constituency neighborhoods had so many times tried to meet the MLA, unsuccessfully though, to highlight the stinking refuse filled seas they had to wade in their medieval lanes and of the nonexistent civic amenities. His permanently pretended hibernation of 'sahab ne bola mai ghar pe nahi hun' (Boss has conveyed, he is not at home) pointed to a political prevaricator. Interestingly always media ready, commenting (and then retracting) on every issue and non issue, yet totally detached from the very political seat that he claimed to represent. 

It is this political class that feeds and survives on conflict insecurity in Kashmir, by rising to power by our denial of participation. Paradoxically, our participation has been already sealed by decades of ‘Democracy for Kashmir manufactured in New Delhi’ dispatches.  What should change first becomes a typical chicken and egg question; should New Delhi’s manufactured policy on Kashmir change first or our participation? 




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