Elections in Kashmir   Click here for detailed version

B.K. Nehru: 1997
"From 1953 to 1975, Chief Ministers of that State [of J&K] had been nominees of Delhi. Their appointment to that post was legitimised by the holding of farcical and totally rigged elections in which the Congress party led by Delhi's nominee was elected by huge majorities." B.K. Nehru, who was Governor of Kashmir from 1981 to 1984, in his memoirs published in 1997.

- Nice Guys Finish Second; pp. 614-5.

There have been widespread charges of election-rigging in Kashmir which have plagued all the elections from 1951 till date. Though it is true that election-rigging is not specific to the State of J&K and has taken place in elections elsewhere in India, it becomes necessary to analyze elections in Kashmir, given the fact that the Indian State continues to argue that such elections are a substitute for the promised plebiscite. It is noteworthy that Mr. B.K. Nehru, former Governor of J&K has acknowledged publicly that elections in Kashmir have indeed been rigged in the past.

In 1978, Prem Nath Bazaz, a prominent Hindu Kashmiri journalist and activist summarized the political process in Jammu and Kashmir(J&K) as follows: "After independence, rulers of J&K State were not the freely chosen representatives of the people as they should have been but were the nominees and the proteges of the Central Congress Government. Whether they were the leaders of the National Conference as in the early years (1947-53) and during 1975-77, or belonged to the Congress as in the intervening period, their source of power was New Delhi...". Bazaz continued, - "The fact remained that the final decision about selection of candidates, extent of rigging and supply of funds rested with the central Congress leadership. Not even once the elections were fair and free and a candidate holding independent views had slim chance to be elected. It was taken for granted that so long as the ruling party was in the good books of the Central Government, it was sure by hook or by crook to win the majority at the polls; most of its candidates were declared elected without contest".

The history of elections held in Jammu & Kashmir right from October 1951 to 1999 is full of recorded evidence that points out large scale state supported rigging, coercion and out-right brutality in the early years and use of gun point to drag the helpless Kashmiris out of their homes to cast vote, in the later years. The Central Congress Government controlled the ruling parties in the State (National Conference from 1953-1965 and the Congress Party from 1965-1975), with its handpicked nominees running the government. The top opposition stalwarts like Maulvi Mohammad Yusuf Shah and Ghulam Abbas had fled to the other side of the border in 1947. The Plebiscite Front had boycotted the path of elections and was demanding self-determination. This enabled the ruling National Conference to perpetuate its monopoly over state power.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was installed by India as the Prime Minister of the State in March 1948 to rule the state along with Council of Ministers. [In Kashmir, Chief Minister was called Prime Minister until 1965]. In October 1949, the Indian Constituent Assembly adopted Article 370 of the Constitution, ensuring a degree of autonomy and special status for Jammu and Kashmir. India held the first election in Kashmir in October 1951 to elect the Constituent Assembly. It is important to note that the UN made it clear that this election is not a substitute for a plebiscite.

Pakistan's Record in Elections in J&K
  • During the 1996 elections in Indian controlled Kashmir, Pakistan supported militants, besides other militants, have threatened the voters and candidates against participating in the elections. There have been similar threats by militants in the Parliamentary elections in 1998 and 1999.

  • Though Azad Kashmir has its own Government with only defence and foreign affairs controlled by Pakistan, there have been charges of manipulation of elections and candidates by Pakistan in Azad Kashmir . Northern Areas are controlled by Pakistan and the people do not have basic democratic rights and have never participated in elections.

  • The Indian government was then pressing Sheikh Abdullah to ensure that the Kashmir legislative assembly ratified accession of Kashmir to India. The 1948 Indian White Paper on J&K states that Maharaja Sir Hari Singh, the Ruler of J&K had signed an Instrument of Accession in October 1947, acceding his State to India and the accession was accepted by India conditional on a plebiscite . Further, between 1947-1951, Nehru repeated the assurance of holding a plebiscite to decide the final accession of J&K, but in 1952 he suddenly backed out citing the Pak-US alliance. Critics have labeled this as flimsy excuse.

    Meanwhile, while Abdullah had spoken publicly in favour of endorsing the Accession to India since 1947, he began to drift towards autonomy/independence of J&K and procrastinated in confirming the Instrument of Accession. When the new assembly failed to ratify the accession document, the Indian Central Govt arrested Abdullah in 1953 and appointed his chief deputy, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, as prime minister of J&K. Under Bakshi's administration, the assembly ratified the Instrument of Accession in 1954.

    In the Parliamentary elections held in 1989, voter turnout was very thin in Kashmir Valley , partly due to threats by militants. President's rule was imposed in J&K from 1990-1996 following the insurgency. Almost a decade after the last elections in Kashmir, the Indian government held much-publicized elections in 1996. In the Parliamentary elections held in May, many people complained that they were caught between militant groups who threatened to abuse people who participated in the elections and the army and the so-called renegades threatening violations against those who did not. The people were literally dragged out physically from their homes at gunpoint, dumped into army trucks and brought to polling booths.
    In the Assembly elections held in September, Farooq Abdullah came to power in what was termed as "sham" elections. All Party Hurriyat Conference(APHC) which favours independence, boycotted the elections. The elections became something of a farce in which, by manipulation, the Indian government was once more able to impose its chosen government. While claiming it was restoring the democratic process, India rejected all requests of foreign observers to monitor the elections. The 1999 Parliamentary elections also witnessed very thin voter turn-out in Kashmir Valley.

    According to P.S.Verma , "All the periodic elections in the state have thus repeated the same old story of illegal rejection of nominations, proxy voting, booth capturing, beating and abducting rivals, disrupting public meeting etc. The entire democratic process has been strangulated and trampled time and again by the local zealots to serve their narrow political ends. These perversions in the long run have not only ridiculed the electoral process but also contributed to the spurt of fundamentalism, subversion and militant violence in the state".

    The Indian Government continues to argue that a plebiscite is no longer necessary because the inhabitants of the part of the state which it controls have repeatedly taken part in elections and that their popular leader Sheikh Abdullah had endorsed the accession of Kashmir to India. The Kashmiri activists do not equate these elections - arguably never free and fair - with being allowed to exercise their right to self-determination in a plebiscite which had been repeatedly promised to them by the Indian Government and Nehru. Besides, voting for Sheikh Abdullah need not mean they endorsed every shifty stand in regards to accession and plebiscite, he took from time to time to retain power; they may have merely voted for him due to certain other benefits of his administration such as land reforms and for want of a better candidate. An estimated 400,000 Kashmiris took to the streets of Srinagar in 1990, demanding a plebiscite.

    Examining the issue in its report, the 1993 mission of the International Commission of Jurists concluded that the right of self-determination to which the people of Jammu and Kashmir became entitled as part of the process of partition has neither been exercised nor abandoned and thus remains exercisable today. It must also be noted that the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated in a interview in March 2001, that "There are Security Council resolutions which are important, but they are not self-enforcing. The parties have to come together through dialogue to implement whatever agreements are taken, which the Security Council resolutions could bear up."