In many's looks,
the false heart's history is writ in moods,
and frowns, and wrinkles strange
~Sonnet 93, William Shakespeare
English playwright and poet (1564-1616)
Sonnet 93 is one of Shakespeare's famed sonnets addressed to a mysterious fair youth. Our local fair youth brigade -- read Messrs Omar and dad Farooq Abdullah – are currently blushing at the 93 percent polling recorded in the state for the four Legislative Council (LC) seats held under the rural local bodies’ quota. Despite prevailing threats from some quarters and a general atmosphere of intimidation, it appears that the Panchs overwhelmingly decided to get in a democratic queue. The icing on the cake was the four by four victory lap by the NC-Congress combine.
Notably the election to these seats was last held in the 1970s. No wonder the intelligence apparatus and the security grid in the valley are happy like clams in butter sauce, congratulating each other. It is after a long, long hiatus that the government is in a position to fill up the LC seats under the Panchayat quota. Apprehensions that some members might boycott the polls after the recent killing of five Panchs and Sarpanchs by unknown gunmen, and the late summer calls for the headmen to resign, have apparently fallen through. The belief in democratic process, it appears, just like the seasonal Harisa, has returned to Kashmir.
The problem is not with so many council folk turning up in large numbers to vote. The image being carefully cultivated, and the one that immediately goes out, is that elections – of any stripe – are in a circuitous way some tacit approval of India’s rule in Kashmir. The fact that the Panchayat polls are being held like a direct contest between the National Conference-Congress coalition (notwithstanding the gibberish Sheikh Nazir and Mustafa Kamal keep regurgating) and the Peoples DemocraticParty (PDP) is not lost to many. The rightwing BJP contested all four seats.
In the meantime, Hurriyet Conference, headed by Syed Ali Geelani called for a boycott of the polls. Not because in his mid-80s, the old man takes some perverse pleasure in making these appeals. There is perhaps a larger point he is trying to make. Elections, in a disputed geography like Kashmir, seldom solve anything. They only lead to an illusion in a bubble. Alas false hope is a terrible thing. Rest assured, the 93 percent turn-over and all the associated sound of progress shall soon be sold as signs of creeping normalcy.
Pertinently everyone wants to give peace a chance but the unraveling of any such initiative requires a political will (not necessarily the will-o'-the-wisp of Prof Gani Bhat and co). If anything these elections seem to be obfuscating, even if temporarily, the dominant narrative in Kashmir. While it is quite convenient to hail democracy and beat poll drums at SKICC, making sure that dissenting voices are effectively locked up in Hyderpora – isn’t exactly fair game. The truth is that the current exercise is simply a part of the existing structure of power in Kashmir and bears no relation to the aspirations of people.
For three decades the polls to the Panchayat quota were not held in Kashmir. Suddenly, as if to prove a point, feelers went out. Campaigning began in all earnestness. Pro-India parties started the usual election-time bickering. And on December 6, the results were announced with much fanfare. Self-congratulation climaxed while everything evaporated in the background. A day after the elections, New Delhi based newspapers were quick to note that the contest in Kashmir assumes significance as it is being considered the litmus test for the 2014 assembly elections.
The game, it appears, has just begun. God knows how much does a plateful of Harisa cost at Aali Kadal these days!
(Sameer Bhat is a middle-east based Kashmiri blogger and a free-lance journalist. He has written political blogs and essays on Kashmir for several leading publications. His poems have appeared in CounterPunch USA and Poet’s Basement)