Manzoor Anjum, the editor of Uqaab, who presided over the maiden elections of Kashmir’s Press Club, talks to Masood Hussain
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): What was your experience of holding the maiden election of the Kashmir Press Club?
MANZOOR ANJUM (MA): When I accepted the task of working as the chief electoral officer, I didn’t think much over it. But once I reached home, I began to ponder over my decision. Many questions popped up in my mind. I felt that I was naïve to the concept of elections as it was held for the first time. There was no proper format too. I realized that I won’t be able to conduct free and transparent elections due to the lack of experience in this field. There was no way to escape from the responsibility, however.
In the first meeting of the election committee, I realized that here we belonged to different organizations within the media. I knew my decisions would be suspected because I was part of one group and the same happened. Initially, there was opposition and it created some irritations, but I remained firm on my decisions. I decided to inculcate stringent behaviour to comply with them over my decisions. I believed that if they won’t accept the decisions, I will be dismissed from the authority or I will leave the post myself. Despite strong opposition, I was successful in convincing them and it was encouraging. Gradually, it restored their confidence in me as they felt convinced that I was impartial and independent. After this, it was smooth sailing and I became fortunate in conducting the free and fair elections. It is the first case in the history of journalism in Kashmir that elections happened without any bias and everyone participated.
KL: How did you manage to bring systems into existence?
MA: I admit I didn’t have much knowledge of how electoral systems are created. But when there were problems, I tried to solve them sagaciously and with delicate care. I also took the help of some people mostly who were experts in the field of law. That is how I tried to frame the systems, and now that rules and regulations have been structured, it will serve the basis for all elections in future.
KL: By the way, what were the grievances that you received?
MA: There were numerous grave complaints that I came across. One of the complaints was that some people being associated with political and government organizations were also given the right to vote. I investigated this matter personally, and there were 21 such candidates who were dropped from the voting list.
Another grievance was about the interim body. The complaint said that they cannot participate in elections. When I called them, they said that they can as the constitution did not mention any such thing. Those who were opposing presumed that if an elected body cannot partake in elections then how come the elections can be held democratically. It was a daunting task, and then, I decided to conduct an opinion poll to resolve this matter. Some people suspected my decision as they thought it was a conspiracy to postpone elections. They vehemently opposed my opinion but then I tried to make them understand that if I wanted such thing I would have resigned earlier to create problems in the election process. I wanted elections to take place and whatever the majority decides we will accept it. After the elections were over, everyone congratulated me.
KL: Some journalists are saying that how can people who are pensioners of the state government have voting rights even though they are part of the media?
MA: Indeed, it happened but I didn’t receive any complaint against them. I wasn’t aware of them as they had already been provided with membership and voting rights. So, it was impossible for me to take the decision on my own.
KL: What was the experience on the day of polls when the Club was crowded and active?
MA: I was too happy. I felt enthusiastic as people were participating with great fervour. My happiness knew no bounds and it happened because we had created a sense of hope and trust in elections. I felt satisfied.
KL: The elections followed the World Cup. The results were almost similar. Do you feel any resemblance between the two contests?
MA: Of course, there was a huge similarity in our elections and the World Cup. The way England won the match by one run, similarly, one of our candidates lost the presidential election by one vote. This was really surprising and everyone accepted this coincidence.
KL: For last few months, you were literally heading the Club as a chief electoral officer. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this new institution of media?
MA: The Press Club is our identity and we belong to this. Problems and weakness are everywhere. My suggestion to the newly elected body is that people associated with these institutions should be made comfortable. All kind of facilities required in the workplace should be provided to them.
KL: It took around two months for an electorate of 250 people to elect their representatives. It was like a political activity. What do you think of it?
MA: Yes, it was much like a political activity. Competition and rivalry is the part and parcel of elections. But if elections are carried in a transparent manner, people will undeniably cooperate with you. Unless and until we had not created trust in these people, elections would not have taken place.
KL: For 250 candidates, such a huge exercise was undertaken. What do you think how do political organizations manage such huge cadre base?
MA: I myself feel puzzled whenever I think of it. It was a huge exercise but I have no idea how political organizations operate during elections. It is worth praising.
KL: Did you take any punitive action against anybody during this election?
MA: No, I didn’t, but I scolded a boy whom I never wanted to. Today, I feel guilty for rebuking him but it was necessary that time so that everyone could understand that I am a man of principles. There was another person who opposed me at every single step. He used to intervene and attack me personally. I remember he once taunted me for wearing a red shirt. I don’t know why he behaved like that. He also irritated me on our WhatsApp group. I confronted him two to three times, but finally, I ignored him.
KL: How did you feel when the candidate from your group lost the presidential election?
MA: I felt sorry as I couldn’t do anything for them, but, in the end, it is the rule and beauty of democracy. One wins and other looses.
(Saba Gul processed the interview)