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