Kashmir In Lok Sabha

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As J&K is bracing to elect its six new representatives to India’s Parliament, R S Gull offers a brief sketch of the earlier exercises, some of which have interesting details

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Embroiled in a crisis of stability, J&K was the last entrant to the Lok Sabha taking the election route. The process of elections for Lok Sabha commenced only in 1967 when the fourth Lok Sabha was to be elected. In the three earlier Lok Sabhas, J&K sent its nominated members – six every time.

In the first Lok Sabha (April 1952 to April 1957), the six representatives who were nominated included Molvi Mohammad Sayeed Masoodi, Sofi Mohammad Akbar, Ghulam Qadir Bhat, Shiv Narayan Fotedar, Choudhary Mohammad Shafi, and Lakshman Singh Charak.

By the time, the second Lok Sabha was constituted, J&K had affected a change. Congress had jailed Sheikh Abdullah in Kashmir conspiracy case and Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad was the new chief executive of the state. So for the second and the third Lok Sabhas (April 1957 to March 1967), it was a nominated Congress team in the Indian parliament with Bakhshi’s brother Bakhshi Abdul Rashid as the leader. Soon the ‘selection to parliament’ culture was challenged in Supreme Court which upheld the decision of nominating the members in ‘national interest’.

The formal electoral process for parliament followed the constitution of a delimitation commission in 1966. Led by G L Kapoor, it had R C Soni, a retired judge of Punjab High Court and K V Sundrum, chief election commissioner, as two other members and P S Subramanian as its secretary. It was on basis of this delimitation that J&K has six Lok Sabha seats – a position unchanged for nearly half a century.

There were five Parliament elections between 1967 and 1989 when the militancy in Kashmir had started showing itself. These elections were no different from the assembly elections that took place in the era.

Lok Sabha elections of 1967 and 1971 were entirely Congress show. In 1967, J&K sent Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad to the parliament along with Shafi Qureshi. In 1971, Bakhshi lost to NC supported independent candidate Shameem Ahmad Shameem who proved an impressive representative from Kashmir ever.

After 1975 accord sent Sheikh back to J&K as head of a Congress dominated house, the 1977 Lok Sabha polls could fetch NC only two of the six berths in the state. Barring central (Begum Akber Jehan was elected for the first time from Srinagar) Kashmir and north Kashmir Baramulla, Congress retained the remaining four directly or through its satellites.

In the mid-term election of 1980, NC improved its tally to three and witnessed Dr Farooq Abdullah being elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time. The subsequent election in 1984 was held at a time when Sheikh Abdullah’s 1983 death had triggered a massive sympathy wave for Dr Farooq. Despite the wave, NC could not improve beyond the three it was holding. The election saw Prof Saif ud Din Soz and Abdul Rashid Kabuli being elected to parliament for the first time as the widow Akbar Jehan replaced her son, Dr Farooq who was now the J&K ruler.

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When the Congress-NC coalition government decided to hold Lok Sabha elections in 1989, Kashmir reacted quite sharply. Then militancy was showing itself and was already a year old. Owing to the 1987 rigging of the state assembly, society was completed alienated.

As NC fielded Mohammad Shafi Bhat from central Kashmir Srinagar segment, there was nobody interested to contest. He won uncontested.

But there was a contest in north Kashmir Baramulla and south Kashmir Islamabad seats. With the erstwhile law minister P L Handoo and Prof Soz as the party candidates, there were six in fray for north and nine in the south Kashmir segment. People reacted to the process. On the day of polls, there was a TV set on a hand-pulled cart in the main Chowk of Islamabad market with a note offering it as a prize to the first voter. In the periphery, there was nothing like this but people were not interested.

It was a boycott by and large. In Baramulla that had 698284 voters, for instance, only 37466 voters came to the polling stations to exercise their right of the franchise – 11700 each from Uri and Handwara. Pattan recorded only one vote. In the assembly segment of Sangrama, there were only 60 votes, Sopore had 180 votes and Gulmarg 150. So Prof Soz was declared the winner after polling 93.78 per cent of the polled votes. It did not matter that polled votes made only 5.36 per cent of the total electorate!

South Kashmir Islamabad did not exhibit a different trend. From across the region, 36907 voters reported to the polling stations. They made exactly five per cent of the region’s 736495 votes. Pyaray Lal Handoo was declared the winner as he secured 97.69 per cent of all the polled votes. Handoo’s runner up was an independent candidate A R Khan who secured 186 votes!

Despite this grave situation, Congress retained its three seats – two in Jammu and one in Ladakh. These were well-contested seats as Kashmir situation lacked any impact in the two regions.

While the prevailing situation did not prevent the people from getting elected to the highest house of the most populous democracy of the world, the message was conveyed. The next time, in 1991, when the midterm election was held across India, J&K was not in the list. The situation was so grave that it was literally impossible to get even candidates. It was death and destruction ruling most of the state especially the regions dominated by the majority Muslim community. Tens of thousands of security men were managing the anger that a failed democracy had triggered.

As New Delhi started the process for getting Kashmir back on tracks by making it part of the overall electoral process, Chrar-e-Sharief went up in flames in 1995 summer on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr. It was such a rude shock to the politics that NC that was willing to play the ball backed at the last moment.

But Delhi was determined to make it happen. It had its own assets enough to manage the 1996 elections. They had Congress – then handled by Mufti Sayeed and his daughter, and then there were many assets that security forces had created. Eventually, when 37 candidates were in fray for the three Kashmir seats, there were 11 who were gunmen working or had worked for the security grid.

Separatists had called for the boycott of the polls. People were willing to stay home. But security grid was unleashed across Kashmir and people were literally dragged to the polling booths. In certain cases, the security men were seen polling the ballots. It triggered sweet surprises. Sarla Tiploo, who was remotely contesting from south Kashmir Islamabad on BJP mandate secured 39960 votes. Her counterpart from Srinagar A N Vaishnavi secured 35911 votes. Even though the involvement of the security grid ensured poll participation of nearly 49 per cent, the percentage of rejected votes was 4.85 per cent.

This election was a reversal of 1987 assembly elections. In 1987, J&K was enthusiastic and recorded the highest polling. In 1996, they were unwilling but were dragged to the polling booths. The results of this sham exercise sent Congress’s Ghulam Rasool Kar from Baramulla, Ghulam Mohammad Mir from Srinagar and Janta Dal’s Maqbool Dar from south Kashmir. Dar later became a junior MoS in the home ministry. Congress got Ladakh and Jammu too as BJP managed Udhampur.

It was this June 1996 elections that convinced NC that Delhi is willing to accommodate the historic political force but is unwilling to wait. Soon after when the bugle for assembly elections was sounded in the same year, NC was unwilling to miss the bus!

In 1998 when another Lok Sabha election was necessitated, everybody fell in line. With NC in lead, there were 29 candidates in fray from Baramulla, seven from Srinagar and 13 from Islamabad. As participation (across the state) touched 44.21 per cent, the rejections reduced to 2.74 per cent. Kashmir sent an impressive flock to Lok Sabha – Soz from Baramulla, Omar Abdullah from Srinagar, Mufti Sayeed from the south. BJP had two seats, NC three and Congress one.

A new situation emerged in Delhi. BJP’s veteran Atal Behari Vajpayee had to undergo the floor test. NC in Srinagar decided to support probably because Omar was a minister in the Vajpayee led council. But Soz decided to go against the party whip. His decisive vote led to Vajpayee’s failure. Soz was kicked out of NC, Vajpayee required seeking a fresh mandate and 1999 midterm elections became the only available option.

In the 1999 elections, the electorate did not recognize what Soz did for India’s secularism. He contested from Baramulla and ended up at No 4 with 11 230 votes. Awami League’s Ghulam Nabi Mir performed better than him with 25697 votes. The overall participation decreased to 32.34 per cent (across J&K) and the rejections touched 3.47 per cent.

NC –BJP alliance swept the state – it was 4:2. Omar was back in the council as a minister, this time the poster boy of MEA. The most significant development of this election was Mufti was no more a Congressman. He had resigned from Congress in July 1999 and floated his PDP in August. So when the Lok Sabha came around, it contested independently. The response was not so bad. Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Ms Mehbooba Mufti and Mufti Sayeed ended up runners up in the three constituencies – a clear indication of the future happenings in Kashmir that were adequately conveyed by state assembly polls in 2002.

When the next Lok Sabha poll took place in 2004, PDP was ruling the state with Congress in the coalition. NCs Abdul Rasheed Shaheen and Omar Abdullah made it to the Lok Sabha from Baramulla and Srinagar as Ms Mehbooba Mufti bagged south Kashmir as her party ended second at the two other places. Congress took Udhampur and Jammu as Ladakh was taken by a Congress-supported independent from Leh.

In 2009, the balance of the equation had changed in J&K. It was Omar led coalition government and the two parties decided to go to Lok Sabha polls jointly. NC bagged all the three Kashmir seats (Dr Farooq Abdullah, Shareef-ud-Din Shariq and Dr Mehboob Beig) with PDP pushed to second position. Congress retained the two in Jammu with same candidates Madan Lal and Lal Singh as NC supported Kargil independent Hassan Khan defeated Congress in Ladakh.

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