Currently India is holding the local bodies elections in occupied Jammu and Kashmir in 8 phases, from November 28 to December 19, 2020. These are the first elections being held after the BJP-led government ended the special status of Kashmir. Narratives spoke to Nayeema Mahjoor, a well-known Kashmiri journalist and former BBC editor who has also served as chairperson of the Women’s Commission in the state government in Occupied Kashmir, about the importance of these polls for the BJP government and how the Kashmiris, in turn, view them.
Senior BJP leaders and the Indian government appear to be giving far too much importance to these elections? Is this impression correct?
The BJP government had held local government elections in Kashmir in 2018 as well. Many Hindu Pandits, who had left Kashmir decades ago, were brought back with the support of the central government to stand in these elections. However, mainstream Kashmiri political parties did not participate in them.
Referring to these elections, the BJP said that they wanted to strengthen democracy at the local level, because in the past the Kashmiri parties had failed to hold local bodies elections in the state.
Following the end of Kashmir’s special status, the local parties formed an alliance, known as the ‘Gupkar’ alliance. The purpose of this alliance was to restore the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Now this coalition of seven Kashmiri political parties, which also includes pro-India parties, is also participating in these elections. They are of the view that the BJP is strengthening its roots in occupied Kashmir through these elections, so they need to politically block their move.
Has any new personality or party come to the fore in these elections, which enjoys the support of the Indian government?
Many members of Mehbooba Mufti’s party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and other Kashmiri politicians, including former members of the state assembly and ministers, have left their parties to contest the elections. Former PDP member Altaf Bukhari is among them; he has formed his own party, the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, which is enthusiastically taking part in the elections. It is being rumoured that he has the support of the BJP government, especially Narendra Modi.
It’s quite obvious that the BJP-led government has recruited people from assorted political parties for Mr Bukhari’s new party in an attempt to give the impression that Apni Party is a local party of Muslims.
The Gupkar Alliance has also fielded joint candidates in these elections.
The Gupkar Alliance, which was formed to campaign for the restoration of the special status of Kashmir, seems overly enthusiastic about the local bodies elections. Don’t you think by participating in this electoral drama being staged by the BJP government, they are legitimising the electoral process?
The Alliance claims that they are taking part in these elections to deny political space to the BJP, but the reality is that by forming an alliance with the BJP in the past, the PDP had already provided space to them in Kashmir. And prior to that, Omar Abdullah had served as minister in the centre with the BJP government. So they have already extended all possible help to the BJP to strengthen its roots in Kashmir. Now for them to say that by participating in these elections they want to block the path of the BJP seems to be merely a hollow slogan.
Secondly, these elections are not state elections; they are taking place in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. If you wish to restore the special status of Jammu & Kashmir, then why are you participating in them and making them credible?
What is BJP’s top leadership hoping to achieve through these elections?
The situation in Kashmir at the moment is such that all the important government posts are occupied by outsiders, that is non-Kashmiris, whether it is in the local administration, the judiciary or the police; they have absolutely no connection with the locals. They have a long-term political plan. Through these elections, the federal government wants to connect with the people in the state.
The state assembly is currently suspended. There will be legislation in this regard, and if Kashmir is given the status of a state, then there will also be a Chief Minister. The BJP wants a large number of Hindus to be settled here, after which you will see that Kashmir, where the Chief Minister has always been a Muslim, may have a Hindu one in the future. Their main objective is to destroy the Islamic identity of Kashmir.
Does the ordinary Kashmiri share BJPs’ excitement about these elections? Are people on the ground participating in them?
If we talk about ordinary people, they are almost indifferent to the whole process; they regard it as a meaningless exercise. The majority of Kashmiris were not even interested in the state elections held in the past. And they are even less interested in these local bodies elections. But due to the participation of pro-India political parties in these elections, a small number of people will participate in the voting.
If we talk about the electoral politics of Occupied Kashmir, would it be fair to say that politics there is limited to a few families?
The United Nations and the international community recognise that Kashmir is a disputed territory. After 1947, India deliberately promoted political families who supported their position on Kashmir. These few pro-India families consider themselves Indians, which is why a large number of Kashmiris have always remained indifferent to their politics. These families have been trying their best to suppress the independence movement. No one else has been able to create a space in the mainstream politics of Jammu and Kashmir other than these few families. Dr Shah Faisal tried but he couldn’t succeed; you cannot survive in Kashmir’s politics without the support of the Indian establishment. Only pro-India parties can make a place for themselves in Kashmir’s electoral politics because they have the support of the Centre.
In recent days, we have seen Kashmiri nomads called Bakarwals or Gujjars being evicted from certain areas of Jammu. Why are they being evicted?
According to the 2011 census, the population of nomads or Bakarwals is about 1.5 million. That number could be even higher. These wandering nomads spend a few months of the year in one place and a few months in another. In winter, they head to Jammu. The majority of them are Muslims. Their numbers were increasing in Jammu. The impression was created that if their numbers continued to rise, their population would outnumber the Hindu Dogras there. This fear-mongering and propaganda has been going on for some years, as a result of which in 2018 a young Bakarwal Muslim girl, Asifa, was raped and killed in the area. The attack was carried out to scare away Muslim Bakarwals from Jammu. So the recent eviction of Muslim nomads from Jammu is just another attempt by the BJP government to maintain the Hindu majority in the area.
Incidentally, they are also relocating Hindu families from other parts of India in Jammu and Kashmir. A Hindu majority would benefit BJP and other pro-India parties in the elections.