OPINION: It’s Time to Act & Elect in Jammu & Kashmir- by Parijat Kaul

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It’s Time to Act & Elect in Jammu & Kashmir- by Parijat Kaul

“One years since the Article 370 of Constitution of India was amended and special status of Jammu & Kashmir revoked it seems resumption of electoral process will happen soon. It is time that J&K move forward with full participation and elect its genuine representatives….”

Reported from Viewswall by RK News
5 Aug 2020

The restarting of political activity and restoration of electoral process seems to be picking pace in Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir (UTJK) lately. Leaders of main political parties were placed under preventive custody when J&K was placed under an extended lock down, with sporadic exemptions since 3 August 2019.

After little less than a year Government, in the month of July 2020, released Sajjad Lone, Chairman of People’s Conference. Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah of National Conference were earlier let out. But People’s Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti remains under preventive custody.

The state was placed under a lock down on 03 August 2019 and on 05 August 2019 Narendra Modi Government amended Article 370 of Constitution of India bringing to end the special status of Jammu & Kashmir. The state was divided in two union territories Union Territory of Ladakh and Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir with a provision for an elected state assembly.

As the change completes one-year people ask what has changed for UTJK since that day. What one would like to assess, this means, is that where stands the much talked about disconnect of the ruler with the ruled. Perhaps the story is better told with a historical perspective.

The Chaos in the Making

Kashmir has been witnessing a period of turmoil not for the last three decades but for more than seven centuries now. It all started in the 13-14 centuries and took firm roots during the period of the last ‘Kashmiri’ ruler of Kashmir, Kota Rani. Married to Suhadev, who ruled Kashmir from 1301 to 1320, she had a decent exposure to the working of the matters of the state. Her own days of regality from 1323 to 1339 were tumultuous one.

Ambition, treachery, conspiracy and coup had become the order of the day. It is not that Kashmir had never seen such power struggle before. Throughout the history, as recorded in Rajtaringini, there are several accounts of kings and queens being dethroned by brothers, mothers or others for power. But Kota Rani’s removal from the royal seat assumes a higher significance. For this is when the power to rule slipped, permanently, in to the hands of non-Kashmiris.

Kota Rani lost her monarchy to the treachery of Shah Mir, who was earlier a minister to her husband Suhadev during his reign. But Shah Mir, of Central Asian descent, was not the first non-Kashmiri ruler of the state. The first ruler in fact was Lhachan Gualbu Rinchanaa of Mongolian descent from Ladakh, popularly referred to as Rinchana. Rinchana and Shah Mir, both, were ministers in the court of Suhadev.

During the last days of Sudadev, in 1320 a Mongol commander Zulchu attacked Kashmir with a sizable force. Notorious for savagery, Zulchu caused such devastation that it gave birth to a proverb that became part of Kashmiri expression. A defeated Suhadev fled to Tibet and people hid for dear life. Srinagar became a ghost town and it is said that only eleven families remained. Even today, if a match for a boy or girl takes time people ask lightly, “Why? Are there only eleven families left in Kashmir now?”

In the melee Ramchandra, army commander of Suhadev captured the fort declared himself the king only to be killed by Rinchana and ascending the throne in the year 1320 and marry Kota Rani. This is when, the now much talked, State and Subject disconnect and distrust began.

State and Subject Distrust Begins

Rinchana wanted to be initiated in to Hindu fold but the Kashmiri Brahmin community refused to extend him the benefit. An angry Rinchana converted to Islam at the hands of Bulbul Shah and became Sadruddin Shah. Sultan Sadruddin Shah gave a free hand to Muslim preachers and a process of conversion of Hindus was also set in to motion. The already created chasm between the king and the subject widened.

Rinchana’s reign was brief and was followed by Kota Rani. Though she remained in power from 1323 to 1339 but the state was in turmoil. Turkic-Mongol attacks were increasing and eventually she was usurped by Shah Mir, who had continued to a minister in the court of Rinchana earlier and then Kota Rani as well. He established the Mir Dynasty which was to followed by the Mughals in 1580. Kashmir then saw a long reign of rule by various outsidres.

The turmoil persisted till the end of Sultan Sikander who ruled from 1389–1413 CE and came to be known as ‘Sikandar Butshikan’, the ‘Idol Destroyer’. Forced conversions and oppression had subdued the majority Hindu population. Even though there is virtually no account of any noticeable rebellion against the throne by Hindu majority it did not mean that people had developed any affinity for the rulers. The Mughals also came to power riding the edge of a sword. Of course there were Hindu ministers in the royal courts every time. But that was an unavoidable necessity because that was the literate class at that time.

By now perhaps the process of conversion had made Kashmir a Muslim majority but prompt came the Sikh rule when Ranjit Singh conquered Kashmir followed by the Dogra rule. People just invited themselves and enthroned themselves. Kashmiris never got time to relate to the ruler occupying the throne. Ironically throughout the history since Kota Rani was deposed and an outsiders occupied the throne, the religion of the ruler and the ruled have been at war. Seems that it became the destiny of Kashmiris to resign to a fate where the section in power would always be in religious confrontation with common people.

Caught in a Delusion

But jumping directly to current period, it seems that Kashmiris are caught in a delusion. They failed to notice perhaps that post 1947 India became a democracy and Jammu & Kashmir also. They fail to notice that Muhammed Sheikh Abdullah who they declared Sher-i-Kashmir is now called a traitor by a whole section of society, Hindus and Muslims both. They fail to notice that Turkey on one far end of the Asia and Malaysia on the other side can impact opinions in Kashmir. One cricketer across the border, one TV series in foreign language can drastically change what Kashmir was thinking last night.

They fail to notice that they really don’t have an opinion of their own. All sorts of fringe elements making demands ranging from ‘azadi’ to ‘homeland’ get a hearing and even take center stage. And yet the majority remains unheard. Simply because the force of habit to detest anyone in power is easier to handle. Seven hundred years of distrust with the throne is like a chronic disease, the patient would rather endear the pain than risk effects of a seemingly difficult treatment. Yet Kashmir is affected at every juncture.

Elect Representatives Not Leaders

Before special status of Jammu & Kashmir was revoked, Article 370 of Constitution of India was amended more than fifty times between 11 February 1956 and 19 February 1994. Out these forty-seven were Presidential orders, just like the one on 5 August 2019. Since 1956 till date Kashmiris have distrusted even those they themselves elected. The affair of the ruler and the ruled in Kashmir has rarely lasted beyond the first night. Perhaps because Kashmir does not elect a ‘Representative’. They elect a ‘Leader’.

It is time for Kashmiris to realize that no more are they ruled but are the ruler. Each one of them has a right, right to vote. A progressive and inclusive society is paying the price for sleeping on watch. Kashmir can continue to carry the curse of seven centuries or choose to decide for themselves. The electoral process in Jammu & Kashmir may begin tomorrow or two months later. But if Kashmiris don’t wake up from the seven-hundred-year-old slumber and reject the exercise to elect their representatives, ‘Representatives’ not ‘Leaders,’ there in no ‘Dirilish’ (resurrection) for Kashmir and its people.

  • Author is a Delhi based Senior Journalist.