kashmir lockdown

It has been more than a month since the Indian government decided to abrogate the article 370 and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories. Since then the valley has been under a curfew and a communication blockade.On the one hand, the Indian media claims everything to be normal in Kashmir, but on the other international media has brought out reports of torture, mass arrests, killings and massive human rights violations. At this point of time,it is very hard to predict the future of the valley. But,at this crucial point, it is equally important to look back into the history and see what brought Kashmir to this point and what could possibly be waiting for the former state in future.

After the centre’s decision to abrogate 370, Shah Faisal,a former civil servant who resigned to form the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Front,said that this decision had left his generation, who grew up in the 1990s with a bitter feeling of betrayal. The generation of his grandfather, he elaborated,were betrayed when the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was arrested in the 1950 and his father’s generation underwent the same feeling when the state elections of 1987 were rigged. Asadudin Owaisi, a member of Parliament from Hyderabad, ehcoed similar sentiments in the Parliament.He termed the decision as third historic mistake,the first two being the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 and rigging of state elections in 1987 as the other two.

The arrest of Sheikh Abdullah and the rigging of elections in 1987 are indeed very important events in the history of Kashmir, and have in many ways shaped the Kashmir of today.

The decision to abrogate 370 were not just taken without taking the people of state into confidence, but also against their will. And, then it was followed up by a massive crackdown, arrests and restrictions. The Indian government, through its propaganda machinery has tried to portray the decision as necessary and in the interest of people.Selling the idea of development, they have even claimed that this would bring development to the state.But understanding the present of Kashmir requires us to go back into the past. This will help us get an idea of the problem in Kashmir.

On the 9th of August 1953 Sadr- e-Riyasat Karan Singh dismissed Sheikh Abdullah, the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir on the account that he had lost the confidence of the cabinet that he headed [not the house] .He was arrested for his alleged role in the infamous Kashmir conspiracy. This case was later dropped by the government but Sheikh Abdullah spent almost eleven years in prison. This was how centre dealt with the person who played the most important role in the state’s accession to India. At that time, he had been the undisputed leader of Kashmir and also the person who had rejected two nation theory on which the state of Pakistan was created.

Sheikh Abdullah’s dismissal and arrest took place in an absolute secrecy. Many other leaders of the National Conference were also arrested and restrictions were put in the state. Describing the situation of the state after his arrest,Sheikh Abdullah writes in his autobiography:

Thousands of the protesters were arrested. The entire valley was convulsed with the crisis. For nearly three weeks people stopped their normal business. Eid fell in the meantime, a blood-smeared Eid and no congregational prayer was held at Eidgah in ages. The atmosphere was pervaded with gloom.Bakshi’s house(Deputy Prime Minister of Riyasat-e-J&K) was converted into a detention camp where most members of the constituent assembly were held in unofficial custody. First attempts were made to buy them through temptation. Those who could not thus be won were thrown into prison”.

The subsequent elections in the state, in the aftermath of Abdullah’s arrest, ensured that the puppet governments of the centre were selected in the state.These elections were boycotted by Sheikh Abdullah, which meant easy victories for the other side. In 1957 state elections thirty people were elected unopposed while ten nominations of the opposition were rejected. Once again in 1962 in the state elections, thirty two people won unopposed from the valley and two from Jammu. In 1967 the nomination papers of about 118 candidates were rejected and Congress party won twenty two seats unopposed in the valley. At this time, some drastic changes were made regarding the autonomy and the special status of the state. The state was brought under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India as well as the Election Commission.Many Indian bureaucrats were posted in the state, the nomenclatures of the state heads were changed and many more changes were done.

As Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad took over as Prime Minister, in order to appease the angry people, he undertook the task of development in the valley . Jobs were given to the people, rice was sold at a very much reduced prices and he focused a lot on the infrastructure in the state earning him the name ‘architect of modern Kashmir’. But at the same time the political space in the state was shrinking. On the political front, the people were being chocked. The people, who less than a decade ago, under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah had rejected the two nation theory came under the banner of Plebiscite Front to demand the plebiscite to decide the future of the state.It was led by Mirza Afzal Beg and Sheikh was its patron. The masses of the valley started rallying under the banner of PlebisciteFront.

All these developments – from Abdullah’s arrest, to the hollowing out of democracy and autonomy of the state – had a deep impact on the people of Kashmir. These sowed the deep seeds of alienation into the minds and hearts of Kashmiris, and the relationship between Kashmir and India.

Sensing change in the politics of the subcontinent after the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh of what was erstwhile East Pakistan, Sheikh Abdullah dropped the idea of Plebiscite. He returned to power in 1974 after signing the Indra-Sheikh accord. Veteran National Conference leader Abdul Qayoom Zargar commenting about this accord said that the terms of the accord were deeply unpopular and the people swallowed it as a bitter pill only because of Sheikh Abdullah’s acceptance.

The accord did not change the Indian’s state treatment of Kashmir. The most damning event was the state elections of 1987. In 1987, the National Conference and the Congress were fighting this election together.This move had made NC, now led by Farooq Abdullah after his father’s death, quite unpopular in the state. It was in this election that most of the future separatist leaders under the banner of Muslim United Front (MUF) came forward to participate. The MUF had grown immensely popular, specially among the youth. This was for the first time that apart from National Conference any other political front was rallying up for a big fight. It was estimated the the MUF would have won about 15-20 seats in these elections. but what followed would completely change the future of Kashmiri.

A congress leader at the time, Khem Lata Wukhoo in an interview to BBC said “I remember that there was a massive rigging in 1987 elections. The losing candidates were declared winners. It shocked the ordinary people’s faith in the election and the democratic processes”.Speaking to the BBC ,the former chairman of Hurriyat Conference prof Abdul Gani Bhat said “Kashmiri youth participated in the 1987 elections with great enthusiasm and seriousness and after due thought. But after the poll results fired them with anger, they decided to fight violence with violence.”

Just as the results were about to be announced, the new government was busy arresting the top MUF leadership. Large parts of the valley were under curfew even as votes at some counting station were being counted five days after they were supposed to be. The details of the results remained unannounced almost a week after polling ended. According to a report dated April 15 1987 by India Today , People’s Conference led by Abdul Gani lone, father of Sajjad lone was expected to do well in Bandipora, Sangrama, Handwara and Kama. A journey through Kupwara and Handwara districts, when the voting was in progress, indicated that Lone held unchallenged sway. But the counting was postponed in several of lone’s strongholds at the last minute. In fact, just when the counting began in Handwara on March 26, Lone and his counting agents were thrown out by the police from the counting stations. Further in Pattan powerful Shia leader Iftikhar Ansari had asked his voters to vote for the opposition and here entire ballot books pre-stamped for NC were recovered with counterfoils intact from polling booths. Similar pre-stamped books were recovered by opposition agents from polling officer at Eidgah. Starting two weeks before the election , 600 opposition workers were arrested in areas where the opposition was showing strength.

Separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Prof Bhat, Gani Lone, Hizb Chief Syed Salahudin all participated in this election. Future JKLF chiefs Ashfaq Majid Wani , Yasin Malik who were polling agents were also part of this election. After the losing candidates were declared winners and the MUF leaders and workers were arrested, the whole tide changed. Those who yesterday were fighting election after this event never participated in the electoral process, never accepted the democratic institutions, never believed in the constitution and either took up arms or separatist politics to fight for the final solution of this conflict.

The events around the 1987 elections completely changed the fate of Kashmir in almost every aspect. Following this rigged election, Kashmir saw the rise of arms and mass movement in the valley, demanding freedom and the right to self-determination.

The alienation amongst Kashmiris against the Indian state that was brewing since 1953 was now complete. From the state’s point of view,the event of 1987 backfired completely with the rise of militancy and people out on the streets.This reaction from the people wasn’t spontaneous but a reaction to the repeated betrayals of the Indian state.This reaction, the anger, the feeling of betrayal still persists in Kashmir and has kept the movement alive and thriving in Kashmir. This is depite brutal state repression, every time people take to the streets.

Keeping in mind the above two events and the previous reactions of the Kashmiris, one can say that the centre’s decision to abrogate the 370 without the will of kashmiris will surely have repercussions in the state. The steps taken by the centre this time are in the same line as in 1953 and 1987. Once again, the decision is being imposed through deceit and force. There might not be a short term reaction to it but for sure Kashmir will see a long term repercussion to it and it will only complicate the already complicated issue. The effects of this will be felt both in Srinagar and New Delhi.

Hamaad Habibullah, BA(hons) Economics, Jamia Millia Islamia



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One Comment

  1. Whether the Congress under Nehru, or the BJP under Modi, the rulers of the Indian state had always treated Kashmir as a battlefield to prove its domination over a people who had been struggling for `azadi’ – a status of independence, free from both Indian and Pakistani occupation.