The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has finally announced its entry into Kashmir. The party has nominated RTI activist Dr Raja Muzaffar as its candidate for the parliamentary seat of Srinagar-Budgam in the valley. The seat is presently held by National Conference (NC) patriarch Dr Farooq Abdullah, who is a minister in the union cabinet. The NC has announced to repeat Abdullah from the constituency in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Fielding Raja against Dr Farooq appears to be in continuation of AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal’s public pledge that his party would field candidates against all union ministers, who, according to him, are corrupt. Kejriwal’s list of corrupt ministers, which he issued to the press, included name of Dr Farooq Abdullah as well. Though Dr Farooq Abdullah refuted Kejriwal’s allegations but he did not show any courage to challenge the AAP chief on legal front. That made one believe that Kejriwal might have done serious home work before pointing fingers on the NC patron.
Dr Farooq Abdullah’s name, last year, had surfaced in a multi-crore scam in Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association of which he is the President. The Jammu and Kashmir Police, last month, completed and concluded its investigation into the high-profile scam, and established the involvement of Abdullah, besides other members, in siphoning off crores of rupees of the Association. In 2011, an alleged scam of Rs. 2000 crore in his ministry (Renewable Energy) too had also made headlines briefly in the media. So when AAP declared its nominee against Farooq Abdullah, one could assume that Arvind Kejriwal has simply kept his word.
But would this make any difference in Kashmir? Surely, no.
The AAP nominee Raja Muzaffar in no way could be termed as ‘someone’ in Kashmir. His political acumen, influence and honesty are not tested ones. To a restricted class of people, which include sections of politicians and media, Raja is mostly known as RTI activist. He briefly joined People’s Democratic Party (PDP) some years back but soon withdrew from politics to keep on his activities as RTI activist. One is not sure about his influence on ground. In his home district Budgam, he is facing a case of molestation as well.
But this is a hard fact that Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) rise in Indian politics has caught the imagination of many a people in Kashmir. They describe AAP’s rise as peoples’ mood for change’. In the process they draw comparisons between Kashmir and Delhi and try to convince themselves that the AAP experiment could be tried in Kashmir as well. Sajjad Lone is one among such politicians who is not only impressed by the AAP performance but has also got energized by the success of a party named after nondescript common man. One gathers the impression that Sajjad is working on AAP script to try it in the upcoming assembly and parliamentary elections. An independent MLA, who has now formed Awami Itihad Party, Engineer Rashid has walked some steps ahead. He, in one of his statements, claimed that Kejriwal was inspired by him to form the party.
Kejriwal is being discussed and debated among a substantial section of intelligentsia which include lawyers, teachers, literary persons and doctors as well. The people of Kashmir, who are politically more conscious than any other people and class, too are well acquainted with the name and fame of Kejriwal. However, this is a crude fact that no person worth a name has so far publicly aligned himself with the AAP. Who form the AAP’s Kashmir cell, who are its advisors on Kashmir and how the party zeroed in on Raja Muzaffar’s name is not known anyway here. A newspaper report had recently said that a former associate of Kuka Parray is in the core group of AAP, which advises the party on Kashmir.
This is quite contrary to the moral position Arvind Kejriwal is taking on issues in politics. Kuka Parray was a folk singer, not educated even at elementary level. After the rise of militancy in late 80s, he joined militant ranks to fight Indian rule in Kashmir. But after some years he reneged and shook hand with security forces to take a reverse position. Parray soon became a symbol of government-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, whose outfit—Ikhwan—killed and kidnapped people for ransom, looted forest wealth. The Ikhwan members, whose’ simple mention would send chill down one’s spine, indulged in rape and molestation of women. No part of Kashmir was safe from the atrocities the Ikhwan members indulged in.
That made Parray and his men most sought after for militants. Parray, who also became MLA in 1996, and most of his outfit’s top-ranking commanders finally got killed at the hands of rival militants. Parray was killed in IED blast in 2003. One of Parray’s former associates Ghulam Nabi Lone alias Papa Kishtwari of Pampore has been in jail for the past five years facing charges of kidnapping and murder. That makes AAP’s credentials and credibility quite questionable in Kashmir.
But that is not the reason that makes the AAP outmoded in Kashmir.
It goes without saying that a common man’s problems in Delhi and Srinagar are same but what drives them apart is the aspiration. Kashmir, for its major political content, is all about aspirations. One has to draw a fine line between issues and aspirations. That makes the issues like corruption, Bijli, Pani and Sadak redundant in elections in Kashmir. In the past 25 years political aspirations have taken precedence on everything in Kashmir. The armed movement against Indian rule which erupted in late 80s is a case in point. The mass rebellion in 2008, ’09 and ’10 only buttress this further.
Then what makes people to vote?
That is a million dollar question haunting brains, and sometimes it makes one to feel about two-facedness of Kashmiri people. But before being judgemental, one has to take into consideration a serious argument. The conflict people of Kashmir have been caught in is as old as 67 years. One cannot expect a people to be hitting streets and boycotting everything for so long. There are glaring instances of election boycott in the past. In 1957, 62 and 67 Assembly elections and parliamentary elections held during this period, people of Kashmir generally remained away from all the electoral exercises. Lately in 1989 parliamentary elections the overall participation of voters was less than three percent (3%). That was when Kashmiri Pandits had not migrated from the valley. In 1996, 98, 99 and 2002, people were marshalled of their homes by security forces to cast their votes in assembly and parliamentary elections.
The prolonging of the dispute has made people to strike a balance between political aspirations and material gains. Daily needs apart, Kashmiri people, against all odds, have always tried to keep pace with time though without compromising their political aspirations. It was a Kashmiri boy who topped India’s prestigious civil service examination (IAS) in 2010. Dozens of aspirants have made it to the service before and after that. In studies, business, films, music and other disciplines of life too Kashmiri boys and girls have made their impression. That is what makes them different from Afghans. Afghans have put everything behind political aspirations. Social, economic and material issues mean little to them when it comes to sovereignty and authority of the people.
Cheering for Pakistani team as against Indian team in recent Asia Cup in Dhaka by Kashmiri students in a private university in Meerat is great pointer towards understanding people of Kashmir. These students were studying in the university under special scholarship scheme of government of India. The scheme was launched after 2010 summer agitation to bring Kashmiri students into Indian national mainstream. But how it ended provides for serious examination and deep thought.
— Sameer Gupta (@sameergupta84) March 21, 2014
In 1977 assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir when whole of India went for a change in the name of Janata Party, Kashmir chose to remain unchanged. Some senior political stalwarts including Mirwaiz Molvi Mohammad Farooq (Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s father), Moulana Masoodi, Abdul Gani Lone (late), Khwaja Mohiuddin Qarrah, Prem Nath Bazaz and others tried to test the Janata experiment in Kashmir. But they failed so disastrously that the Janata Party was wound up within days of the loss of elections as it could not find space for its office anywhere in Srinagar.
That makes one to believe that Kejriwal is as irrelevant to Kashmir as Karunanendhi or Jaya Lallita.
By Rashid Ahmad