Shah’s bluster, fluster

Kashmir Times. Dated: 11/20/2020 1:07:36 PM

Whether HM’s remarks stemmed from frustration or aim to create divisive discourse, it makes the electoral process look a farce

As the dates for the first phase of polling to the District Development Council elections draw closer, other than the preparation of dispatching extra troops for security during elections, the ruling party at the Centre appears to be giving an impression that the much-touted exercise may turn out to be a farce. Both the recent utterances of union home minister Amit Shah, which defy any tolerance for an opposition or democratic dissent, and the securitization of election candidates in clustered accommodations away from their constituencies create an impression that the polls may lack the vital ingredient of “fairness and fearlessness”. Shah’s strident attack on the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration formed by the key regional parties and others, calling them ‘Gupkar Gang’ and accusing them of banking on foreign support and promoting terror, are not in keeping with the norms of democratic political discourse. They are even more tragic when they come from a person at the high echelons of power. By seeking to use a harsh language and finding fault with the PAGD simply for deciding to participate in elections, he is simply resorting to low-level mud-slinging which may either be an act of frustration or aimed at appeasing the far Hindu right-wing constituency in Jammu. One of the speculations is that the BJP is jittery after the sudden announcement of the PAGD to participate in the polls, something that the BJP had not calculated. However, another is that the BJP is using the grand alliance as an opportunity to invoke the typical and traditional fears of the “enemy at the door” and shaping up a political imagination where the lines between Kashmiri, terrorist and foreign powers is conveniently blurred. The BJP indeed is desperate to win back its constituency in Jammu, where anti-BJP resentment has been on the rise since last year’s dilution to the special status and the tweaking of laws that has followed ever since creating an all-pervading sense of disillusionment and disempowerment. The BJP has nothing to bank on but to strengthen its divisive discourse – a plank that it has played all along in Jammu region for the last seven decades. That the even more venomous and bigoted remarks of the BJP’s J&K unit president, asking the “Muftis and Abdullahs to chant Jai Shri Ram” should coincide with Amit Shah’s tirade is yet another indication that this is not just the case of utter frustration and shock (at PAGD’s decision to jump into election fray) but also one of weaponising the PAGD to sketch up an enemy bigger than the BJP itself. Whether or not, this helps the BJP electorally, such remarks militate against democratic propriety and this is significant at a time when the BJP is trying to salvage its global image on account of its undemocratic moves in the region.
It should be equally worried about its action of huddling up election contestants in hotels and other government accommodation with no ability to move around and campaign for the elections. While the PAGD leaders have alleged that only the opposition leaders have been forcibly housed in these clusters, some reports suggest that even some BJP members complained of a similar issue. In 2018, when the government went ahead with the panchayat polls despite stiff opposition and amidst threats of militants, the elections went down in history as “ghost polls”. Whether the present move of so-called “security-clusters” is inspired by genuine security threats or by the idea of immobilizing the PAGD contestants, such actions not only defy the purpose of elections, they also puncture the claims of the Centre with respect to improved security situation. If the BJP continues with these mindless actions and rhetoric, the forthcoming polls, despite being defined as a sign of normalcy and improvement, would end up adding to the pile of cosmetic exercises that Kashmir has been accustomed to in the last seven decades.



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