I went through a story published in the Financial Times titled “‘This is all a facade’: Kashmiris vote in staged election.” The news story has been written by a journalist named Stephanie Findlay, the South Asia correspondent for the Financial Times. The story presented a very shady picture of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and was a desperate attempt to ridicule a democratic exercise and limit its scope to the reinforcement of the “oppression narrative” that feeds the journalistic community of Britain.
The shrill and unfairly prejudicial report that was shared by the journalist was a dog whistle against those electorates who had come out to exercise their right to vote, but their right to expression was miscalculated. The whole reportage was based on harmful untruth, pick and choose narrative of what suited the agenda of the media. To put it clearly, as per the witnesses, a number of DDC voters were interviewed by the small delegation of journalists from north to central Kashmir. However, the reporter in her report has quoted only two voters which she thought would fit the agenda.
The presumptions with which the journalist had come to report in Kashmir, were so strong that nothing much could be accessed by her for shifting her bias to the Indian state. The journalist makes claims which are contradictory to the situation that she found herself in.
The reporter arrived in a “militarised Kashmir” which if not covered by security, has the potential of turning into a training ground for organisations like Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Such organisations are much dreaded by the West and have had a great impact on the Western foreign action against countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.
The lack of relativity with the situation in Kashmir is due to the under-recognition of India as a welfare state by the Western media, which likes to maintain the prejudiced image of India as an occupier of its own territory.
The journalist in her story alleges that after the abrogation of special status, the Central government tightened the screws over UT and the DDC election was conducted as a mock drill. But the way people came out in large numbers showed their seriousness in exercising their political will, depicts their strong faith in political development, for the purpose, DDC elections were conducted which the reporter misconceived as a ‘staged election’. The false argument of ‘staged election’ underlined by the reporter holds no water since the Gupkar alliance could have never got a big share of seats in the recently held DDC elections. It indicates that the conclusion drawn by the reporter is to satisfy the pro-conflict narrative that the Western rigid liberal media wants to stick to.
The results of this exercise are remarkable and historic in significance as opposed to all the fears of a boycott, the majority of the residents of “Jammu and Kashmir” have participated in these elections. The voter turnout for Jammu and Kashmir was 51%, with the Kashmir region witnessing 34% voter turnout, i.e. 12 percentage points more than it was in the 2018 Lok Sabha election. Yet, after the revocation of the special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, no one was expecting this kind of a turnout in the election.
The reason for this encouraging turnout was the yearning for peace and development of which the common citizens of the Union Territory have been deprived by terrorism and violence. The results of these elections were yet another revelation for the political pundits as for the first time 49 seats went in favour of independent candidates who had risen to take on the dynastic political hegemony of J&K. This spontaneous rise of a democratically devoted opposition to hereditary rule proved quite clearly that people of J&K are reluctant on being misled by politicians from PAGD who over these years had corrupted the whole state machinery operational behind the iron curtain of Article 370.
The vote share that has gone to the PAGD also proves the faith of common people in the democracy of India. The spokesperson of the PAGD, Sajad Lone, also publicly announced the DDC elections as the victory of Indian democratic process. PAGD has the highest number of seats which sum up to 109 seats out of which 67 have gone to National Conference (282514 votes), 27 to the People’s Democratic Party (55,789 votes) and the rest have gone to other parties of the alliance.
In addition to this, the BJP, which is supposed to be the anti-Kashmir party for the biased, has emerged as the single largest party in the Union Territory with 74 seats, having the highest number of votes (4,87,364) polled in its favour. The question that arises is why have the voters voted for a party which has committed “oppression’ on the citizens of the region? The journalist puts a polarising statement of calling Kashmir a Muslim-majority region, completely disregarding the multi-ethnic reality of Jammu and Kashmir.
The communal representation of the whole reality of Jammu and Kashmir is what has always been legitimised by this kind of reporting, making Islamic communalism supersede the spirit of nationalism for India and also legitimising this communalism to keep the conflict reporting a living business.
Surprisingly, the reporter also turned blind eye to peacefully held DDC elections, as for the first time, not even a single incident of violence was reported during the elections in Kashmir. Also, the turnout in these elections represents the departure of the society of J&K from its stereotypical image which is against the interest of its population and the country. The lack of sensitivity in understanding the move emerges from the prejudices with which the journalist has come to report. The journalist has portrayed the armed forces as devil’s men stationed to terrorise the voters when on the contrary the forces’ task is to protect the voters from the attacks of terrorists who the journalists’ love to keep ambiguous by calling them rebels.
These “rebels” over the past year have killed at least 14 nationalist workers whose only crime was that they were willing to invest in the democracy of India. Coming from a developed democracy, the journalist yet again fails to realise the reality of India as a developing democracy whose territorial integrity was put under huge question marks by even the political scientists when India was born as a free country.
The journalist, in her hunt for news and that too sensationalised news, has tried to cover her bias by giving voice to the opinion of the BJP leadership in the region, but in her own narration has clearly shown where her sympathies lie! India has full space for dissent but separatism is an intolerable and unthinkable doctrine for a country that is built on the principle of unity in diversity. A terror-torn region that has been a reason for many terror attacks on India and in a way added to the legitimisation of terrorism by Pakistan where “accidentally” Osama bin Laden was found hiding.
The move of the amendment of Articles 370 and 35A was a counter to the network of terrorism which Pakistan had been able to create on Indian soil. The special status of J&K was only a facilitator for isolation and thriving of terrorism. No country would allow its territory getting used for getting targeted by terrorists.
When the globe has seen what terrorism can do, how can this lack of empathy with a democratic country like India be acceptable? India has never gone to war with any foreign power for centuries but this cannot be taken as a weakness of India that it is not entitled to legislate over its own territory without free will.
The reporter again mocks Indian institutionalisation by calling the status of a Union Territory a “so-called union territory”. The sarcasm in this statement again reflects the bias and more importantly the lack of awareness of the journalist about the status of being a union territory. J&K was turned into Union Territory and by becoming a union territory the citizens of the UT got entitled to a wider spectrum of human rights and privileges.
Since the journalist had to hold on to the conflict narrative a clear blind eye was shown to the developments that had taken place in the region. Over the past one and a half year, the region has been flooded with economic benefits which have reached directly to the grassroots of the region. More than 25,000 jobs have been announced for the youth of J&K. Infrastructural projects have been completed in record times, a three-tier local self-governance system has been empowered in the region for installing democracy at thegrassroots level.
All this has been done and much more is being done for the welfare of the people of J&K but unfortunately, an interview of a terrorised voter whose statement against terrorism might get him in harm’s way is being taken as conclusion regarding the whole electoral process run in J&K.
The journalist calls the region as Muslim majority to show that the Central government is running a vendetta against the Muslims of the country when the demographically Kashmiri Muslims have nothing in common with the Muslims of rest of India. The act of harmonisation of J&K with the rest of the country is being criticised as a move of polarisation just to fit the bill of conflict for gaining eyeballs.
As a Kashmiri, I feel the reporter has put down facts hypothetically and tried to camouflage the maximum account that hardly reflects on ground. The inconsiderate nature of the report towards the good intentions the Government of India holds for the people of Jammu and Kashmir raises many question marks on the authenticity of the reporting done and also establishes the fact that certain British journalists still are in love with the idea of division.
Mir Junaid is the party president of Jammu Kashmir Workers Party. He is a lawyer by education from Law School at Kashmir University. Besides, he is a regular writer for national and international dailies and journals. He can be reached on twitter@MirJunaidJKWP.