• Open Letter to President of India for Free and Fair Elections in Jammu and Kashmir

    E Newsroom

    October 23, 2019

    (Clockwise) Bezwada Wilson, Medha Patekar, Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze | Image courtesy: Newsclick

    Three days ahead of the Block Development Council elections, which is to be conducted in Jammu and Kashmir, at least 260 concerned citizens from different walks of life have written an open letter to the President of India, requesting him to stall the the polls, as conditions of fear and intimidation still prevails in Jammu and Kashmir.

    The concerned citizens mentioned that for democracy to be meaningful, it is imperative that elections are conducted in an atmosphere free of fear and intimidation, so that citizens can vote without fear for candidates of their choice. Given the unprecedented socio-political situation in Jammu and Kashmir, those conditions do not exist today.

    Conducting Block Development Council elections, scheduled for October 24, 2019, in these circumstances erodes faith in the electoral process not just in Jammu and Kashmir, but in the country as a whole.

    “It is especially shocking that these elections are being conducted when most leaders and workers of the mainstream political parties, ranging from the Indian National Congress, the People’s Democratic Party, the National Conference, the J&K People’s Movement, the Awami Ittehad Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have been under arrest or in detention since August 05, 2019. When the entire leaderships of bonafide political parties are under detention and there are restrictions on even personal communication among the leaders and workers of political parties, it is obvious that the grounds for free and fair elections simply do not exist,” the letter reads.

    This not only undermines everything India stands for, but also damages our reputation as a democracy.

    Given the boycott by all other political parties, and the fact that the grounds for free and fair elections do not exist in the state, over 260 citizens and organisations have requested the President to urge the concerned authorities to revisit this undemocratic decision.

    Some of the prominent citizens who are signatories to this letter include

    1.Prof. Aditya Mukherjee; 2. Prof. Akeel Bilgrami; 3. Annie Raja; 4. Prof. Apoorvanand; 5. Arun Khobragade; 6. Aruna Roy; 7. Prof. Ayesha Kidwai; 8. Badri Raina; 9. Magasaysay Awardee Bezwada Wilson; 10. Prof. Bina Agarwal; 11. Dr. Ganesh Devy; 12. Harsh Mander; 13. Prof. Jayati Ghosh; 14. Prof. Jean Dreze; 15. Retd. Vice Air Marshal Kapil Kak; 16. Medha Patkar; 17. Prof. Mridula Mukherjee; 18. Prof. Nandini Sundar; 19. Prof. Nandita Narain; 20. Prof. Neera Chandoke; 21. Nikhil Dey;22. P. Sainath; 23. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta; 24. Paul Diwakar; 25. Prashant Bhushan; 26. Prof. Prabhat Patnaik; 27. Salil Shetty; 28. Shabnam Hashmi; 29. Shah Alam Khan; 30. Shailesh Gandhi; 31. Shanta Sinha; 32. Sundar Burra; 33. Dr. Syeda Hameed; 34. Swami Agnivesh; 35. Prof. Zoya Hasan.

    We are sharing the Open Letter as it is for the readers:

    Open Letter to President of India

    An appeal to ensure that the Block Development Council Elections in Jammu & Kashmir are held only when the grounds for a free and fair election are restored

    22.10.2019

    Dear Shri Ram Nath Kovind ji,

    We, the signatories, are concerned citizens from all walks of life, writing in reference to the forthcoming elections to the Block Development Councils in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). As the legal custodian of India’s Constitution, we write to you to express our grave concern about both the intent and timing of this decision, which undermines both democracy, and the electoral process.

    Various citizen led groups have submitted alarming reports of the ground situation in J&K. On one hand, most means of communication in J&K have been suspended for almost two months. Stringent curfews have been imposed in a number of regions of the state. Exacerbating the situation, there have been reports of clashes between the public and the armed forces which have resulted in injuries and deaths. A recent instance of these excesses was the manhandling and arrest of prominent women activists for leading a peaceful protest in Kashmir. From the six or seven odd reports that have been submitted by independent teams of observers who have visited the state, it is clear that there is a general feeling of unrest in the state regarding the undemocratic manner in which the situation has been handled.

    Equally importantly, all leaders and workers of the mainstream political parties, ranging from the Indian National Congress, the People’s Democratic Party, the National Conference, the J&K People’s Movement, the Awami Ittehad Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have been under arrest or in detention since August 05, 2019. When the entire leaderships of bonafide political parties are under detention and there are restrictions on even personal communication among the leaders and workers of political parties, it is obvious that the grounds for free and fair elections simply do not exist. Even the release of leaders from Jammu does not change the fact that most political leaders from Kashmir are still under detention.

    We also want to draw your attention to the disastrous outcome of the recently conducted panchayat elections, that were conducted despite poor conditions for elections including boycott calls, and which consequently resulted in minimal participation by voters and contestants alike. As per the Election Commission (EC)’s data, only 30% of the panchayat halqas in Kashmir saw polling. Of the 2,135 halqas in the Valley, no candidate stood in 708, meaning they remain vacant. Another 699 halqas saw single candidates who won unopposed. This effectively means 1,407 halqas (or 65% of the total panchayat halqas) saw no contest at all.

    Furthermore, the four South Kashmir districts of Shopian, Kulgam, Anantnag and Pulwama posted the lowest turnouts. Shopian and Pulwama, in fact, saw no polling at all. Kulgam had no polling in 99% of halqas and no candidate for 87% of its sarpanch posts. Anantnag saw no contest in 76% of its halqas. Of the total 17,059 panch wards in the Valley, only 1,656 saw a contest. This is a shocking situation for any electoral process, and the situation today is so much worse.

    You may also be aware sir that the J&K Rural Development Department’s data highlights that there are no Block Development Officers (BDOs) in over 50% of the 316 blocks across the state—148 in Jammu, 137 in Kashmir and 31 in Ladakh (Leh and Kargil). The BDOs are integral in facilitating the conduct of block elections. Given this, the proposed block level elections are being conducted in a situation where the administrative infrastructure is lacking, which will leading to even greater chaos and a flawed election.

    For democracy to be meaningful, it is imperative that there is an atmosphere free of fear and intimidation, where the electoral process enables citizens to exercise their democratic expression while opting for candidates of their choice. This can only happen in an environment where citizens feel free to vote without fear. Given the unprecedented socio-political situation in the state, those conditions do not exist today. Proceeding unilaterally in these circumstances will only erode faith in the electoral process not just in Jammu and Kashmir, but in the country as a whole. It is especially shocking that the EC, which was once hailed as a paragon of fairness and autonomy, is even considering conducting any kind of elections when only one party is contesting, and conditions are so antithetical to conducting fair elections. This not only undermines everything India stands for, but also damages our reputation as a democracy.

    Sir, given that the EC and the union government have decided to proceed with elections in spite of the desperate boycott by nearly all political parties, we appeal to you to uphold the Constitution, and urge the concerned authorities to revisit this undemocratic decision.

    Yours faithfully,

    1 Aabshaar
    2 Aadil Nazir Khan
    3 Aakash Singh Rathore
    4 Aaliya Shah Mubarak
    5 Abha Bhaiya
    6 Aditya Mukherjee
    7 Ajay Gudavarthy
    8 Akeel Bilgrami
    9 Alnawaz Alam
    10 Alphonsa Kumari
    11 Aman Sinha
    12 Ambarish Rai
    13 Amit Kumar
    14 Amitava Choudhury
    15 Amman Madan
    16 Anand K Sahay
    17 Aniket Navalkar
    18 Anjali Singh
    19 Ankush
    20 Ankush
    21 Annie Raja
    22 Anshul Singh
    23 Aoun Abbas
    24 Apoorvanand
    25 Aravind Unni
    26 Arun Khobragade
    27 Aruna Rodrigues
    28 Aruna Roy
    29 Arundhati Dhuru
    30 Arvind Peter
    31 Ashif Haris
    32 Ashish Kothari
    33 Asifa
    34 Avinash Kumar
    35 Ayesha Kidwai
    36 Badri Raina
    37 Bezwada Wilson
    38 Bhaskar Jha
    39 Bhaskar Prabhu
    40 Bina Agarwal
    41 Biraj Mehta
    42 Bobby Nayak
    43 Cedric Prakash
    44 Chaand Ohri
    45 Chakri
    46 Chandrashekar Balakrishnan
    47 Chaya R.
    48 Davis Kangjam
    49 Deb Mukharji
    50 Debmalya Nandi
    51 Deep Joshi
    52 Deepak Sanan
    53 Devalina Kohli
    54 Dhanada
    55 Dhanya Gopal
    56 Dimple Oberoi vahali
    57 Dinesh Kumar Abrol
    58 DL Tripathi
    59 Evita Das
    60 Faizan Alam
    61 Fareeda Khan
    62 Ganesh Devy
    63 Geeta Seshu
    64 Gopalakrishnan Sankaran
    65 Hami Ameen
    66 Harsh Mander
    67 Harsh Singh
    68 Himanshu Aggarwal
    69 Indian Community Activists Network
    70 Indu Prakash Singh
    71 Ishita
    72 Jagabanta Ningthoujam
    73 Jagathpathy Suthan
    74 Jagdeep Chhokar
    75 Jahnvi Andharia
    76 Jaya Iyer
    77 Jayati Ghosh
    78 Jean Dreze
    79 Jeswin Joseph
    80 Joe
    81 John D’Souza
    82 Jothi SJ
    83 Jyoti Punwani
    84 K John Koshy
    85 Kabi
    86 Kaltani Chaudhuri
    87 Kalyani Menon Sen
    88 Kamala Menon
    89 Kamayani
    90 Kamayani
    91 Kanchan
    92 Kapil Chawla
    93 Kapil Kak
    94 Karnataka RTI Workers Seva Samith (Fight for Rights)
    95 Ketan Parte
    96 Khadija Naval Minwalla
    97 Khushboo
    98 Koninika Ray
    99 KP Fabian
    100 Kundan Kumar Raj
    101 Lakshmi Krishnamurty
    102 Lalita Ramdas
    103 Lenin Raghuvanshi
    104 M Sridhar Acharyulu
    105 Maansi Verma
    106 Madhavi Mukherjee
    107 Maimoona Mollah
    108 Manish Kumar
    109 Mariyam Hasan
    110 Maya Krishna Rao
    111 Maya Rao
    112 Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan
    113 Medha Patkar
    114 Meena Gupta
    115 Mili Singh
    116 Mohan Bhagat
    117 Mohd Abuzar
    118 Mohd Zubair
    119 Mohd. Haroon
    120 Mohd. Suhail Qadri
    121 Mridula Mukherjee
    122 Mujahid Nafees
    123 Nachiket Udapa
    124 Nagalswamy
    126 Nandini Sundar
    127 Nandita Narain
    128 Nasun Khan
    129 Navaid Hamid
    130 ND Jayaprakash
    131 Neera Chandoke
    132 Neeraj Malik
    133 Nibedida Saha
    134 Nihal A.
    135 Nikhil Dey
    136 Nikhil Kumat
    137 Nikita
    138 Nithin JR
    140 Nitisha Xalxo
    141 Nyla Ali Khan
    142 P. Sainath
    143 Pallavi Gauri Dehari
    144 Pamela Philipose
    145 Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
    146 Partha Ghosh
    147 Paul Diwakar
    148 Prabhat Patnaik
    149 Pradip Pradhan
    150 Prajjal Sinha
    151 Prashant Bhushan
    152 Praveer Peter
    153 Prem Prakash Verma
    154 Puja Menon
    155 Rahil Rehman
    156 Rahul Mukherji
    157 Raja Medha
    158 Rajendran Narayanan
    159 Rajiv Nair
    160 Raju Sharma
    161 Ramesh Dixit
    162 Ravi Nair
    163 Rini Rizvi
    164 Ritambhara Shastri
    165 Rizwana Fatima
    166 RK Razeen
    167 Roni Rizvi
    168 Rosamma Thomas
    169 Rupa Gulab
    170 Ruth Zothanpuii
    171 S Gandhy
    172 S. M. Zaki Ahmad
    173 S. Prabhala
    174 S.P.Ambrose
    175 Saadia Nasim
    176 Sagar Rabari
    177 Sahana
    178 Saifur Rahman
    179 Salahuddin Ahmad
    180 Salil Shetty
    181 Sandeep Chopra
    182 Sandeep Pandey
    183 Saral Patel
    184 Saudipta Das
    185 Seher Raza
    186 Shabnam Hashmi
    187 Shah Alam Khan
    188 Shailesh Gandhi
    189 Shamim Meghani Modi
    190 Shankar M.
    191 Shantha Sinha
    192 Sharanya
    193 Shiv Shankar Mukherjee
    194 Shriram Dubey Azad
    195 Sirivella Prasad
    196 Sohail Khan
    197 Sonu P Yadav
    198 Sridhar Achar
    199 Steve Rocha
    200 Sujata Jena
    201 Sujata Raghavan
    202 Sunaina
    203 Sunaina Arya
    204 Sundar Burra
    205 Swami Agnivesh
    206 Syeda Hameed
    207 Tanvir Alam
    208 Tarun Sagar
    209 Tikender Singh Panwar
    210 Udayan Kishore
    211 Uma Shankari Naren
    212 Vani Subramanian
    213 Vareni Awasthi
    214 Vijayan MJ
    215 Vikram Vyas
    216 Vincent Ekka
    217 Vineet Tiwari
    218 Vishnu JS
    219 Vivan Sundarsm
    220 Vivek
    221 Yash Marwah
    222 Zakiya Arsiwala
    223 Zarin Khan
    224 Zina Singh
    225 Zoya Hasan

    First published in eNewroom, republished here from Newsclick.

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