Thursday, December 25, 2008

The myth that holding elections are inherently good and 'godly'

Kashmiri Muslim protesters shout pro-freedom and anti-election slogans outside a polling station in Barsoo, some 28 kilometers (17 miles) north of Srinagar, India, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008. Government soldiers opened fire on hundreds of stone-throwing Muslims protesting against elections in Indian Kashmir on Saturday, killing two people and seriously wounding another, police said. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

To hold elections is a noble thing. To oppose the holding of elections is undemocratic. This is what we are used to hearing. This is what we were told when the Eastern Provincial Council Elections were held. The same thing is being said in Kashmir with the recent Legislative assembly polls there. The Hindu today has an editorial titled 'Democracy triumphs' praising the inherent goodness of elections:

In the event, the people of J&K have left no doubt that they see in India’s democracy, however imperfect, the best means to address the multiple problems they face. From the outset, this newspaper has editorially argued that free and fair elections would do more to defuse the crisis than the regrettable practice of seeking backdoor deals with forces claiming to represent the State’s people... India’s exemplary Election Commission, Governor N.N. Vohra, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, the State government’s officials and, above all, the people of Jammu and Kashmir deserve unreserved applause for enabling democracy to triumph amidst the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

The turn out was surprisingly very high: On the first count, voter turnout in the 87 Assembly constituencies rose dramatically from 43 per cent in 2002 to around 62 per cent — slightly higher than the national average, which hovers around 60 per cent. Without dispute, the most heartening signal came from the Kashmir Valley, where voter turnout was 55 per cent compared with 29.5 per cent in 2002. Even in Srinagar, the heartland of J&K’s Islamist-led secessionist movement, voter turnout quadrupled from a pathetic 5.06 per cent in 2002 to 21 per cent in 2008.

This has according to the Indian express has shocked the moderate secessionists to reconsider their options. See article here.

Here comes the other side of the story. An article on the Wall Street Journal reports as follows:

But many voters who lined up at the polls Saturday in south Kashmir, for example, also turned out at anti-Indian protest marches weeks earlier. In the town of Tral, 20-year-old student Manzur Ahmad said that he was voting for an incumbent candidate because, in recent years, the lawmaker had managed to curb the harassment of local youths by government forces. "We vote because this makes our lives easier - but this doesn't mean we don't want freedom," he said.

So much for the Hindu editorial claiming that the turn out was an acceptance of Indian democracy. Further the article reports,

In the village of Samboora, residents said that Indian Army troops went from house to house on Saturday morning, rounding up families and taking them to a polling station. As a reporter drove into the village Saturday afternoon, an army vehicle with several soldiers stopped by the walled compound of Ghulam Mohammad, pulling the 59-year-old retiree onto the road. Seeing a foreign reporter, the soldiers jumped into their vehicle and quickly drove off. "They asked me why I'm not voting, and I said that's because I don't like any of the candidates," Mr. Mohammad said moments later. "They said, if I don't vote, I'll be sorry later."

I am grateful to Kafila for pointing me to this piece.

I argued in earlier posts (here and here) that the Eastern Local government and provincial council elections cannot be considered 'good' on their own and that the turn out at the Eastern provincial council elections (despite the enormous ballot stuffing) cannot be considered an acceptance of TMVP's or Mahinda's scheme. People vote for a multitude of reasons. The Kashmir example i hope illustrates this more clearly.

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