National

Forget Article 370, In The 2024 Polls Political Parties Talk More About The 1987 Kashmir Elections

The perceived betrayal by the democratic process led many disillusioned youths to take up arms, altering the course of Kashmir’s history.

(Photo by Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Polling officers are carrying Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines as they are moving towards their respective polling stations amid tight security ahead of the fifth phase voting of the Lok Sabha elections in Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir, India, on May 19, 2024. (Photo by Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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As the current parliamentary elections take place in Kashmir for the first time since the abrogation of Article 370, an old controversy has resurfaced with renewed vigour.

Political parties opposing the National Conference (NC) are repeatedly referencing the rigged 1987 Assembly elections, a major political event believed to have ignited the insurgency in Kashmir. Among these parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) stands out for its relentless focus on the issue.

The PDP president Mehbooba Mufti has woven the 1987 elections into the fabric of her campaign across the Kashmir Valley. While she refrains from directly attacking the National Conference and Congress, her repeated references to the 1987 rigging serve as a clear nod to the National Conference and Congress’s role.

Her speeches frequently return to this historical grievance, using it as a rallying cry against the NC. Since the Home Minister’s recent overnight visit on Thursday to the Valley, the discourse around the 1987 elections has grown even more intense.

The 1987 elections are a deeply ingrained wound in Kashmir’s collective memory. Widely considered to be marred by rigging, these elections are seen as a catalyst for the insurgency that followed. The perceived betrayal by the democratic process led many disillusioned youths to take up arms, altering the course of Kashmir’s history.

Mehbooba Mufti now strategically takes up the 1987 elections to galvanize support. “The ghosts of 1987 still haunt us,” she often says.

After the Union Home Minister’s visit, Mehbooba Mufti asked the Union Government and the Home Minister to refrain from interfering in the ongoing electoral process in Jammu and Kashmir, saying it is important to allow the elections to proceed freely and fairly here, as they do in other parts of the country. Mehbooba says in 1987 elections rigging undermined public trust in the democratic process and any repeat of such manipulation could have disastrous consequences similar to the violence and turmoil that followed the 1987 elections. 

When Jamaat-e-Islami said it was eager to participate in the election process after the head banned organised cast his vote on May 13, Mehbooba brought 1987 again. "Jamaat-e-Islami contested polls in 1987, including Syed Ali Geelani, but the rigging of that year changed the equations, and people's trust in the electoral process was shaken. But today, the people are coming out in droves as they know that in a democratic process, the great platform to express dissent is the ballot, not the bullet.”

She argues if the government repeats 1987 here again, “when a political group misguided the union government and polls were rigged, the situation is going to prove calamitous.” “It was due to that rigging that thousands of our people died, children were orphaned, and women were widowed,” she argues. When elections were deferred in South Kashmir’s Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, the PDP leader Naeem Akhtar stated “differed voting is akin to the rigging of 1987.”

The PDP leader Waheed Para also repeats it saying, “One lakh lives lost due to the rigged 1987 elections in Kashmir. Jamaat-e-Islami joining the mainstream democratic process is a crucial move for sustainable peace and reconciliation.”

Peoples Conference president Sajad Lone has taken the discourse much further. He says he will hold NC accountable for every single atrocity on innocent Kashmiris since 1987.

Lone says he takes a resolute pledge to hold NC leaders accountable for their involvement in the innocent killings, torture, incarceration, proliferation of graveyards in every village since 1987 and the unjust imposition of PSA on the Kashmiri populace.

When the National Conference vice-president stated that Sajad Lone was not using his father's late Abdul Gani Lone’s picture in his election banners, Lone brought back the issue to 1987.

“My father was previously involved in electoral politics, but he withdrew from participating in elections after experiencing electoral irregularities in 1987. As a tribute to his decision, I refrain from using his photograph in my campaigns, although doing so could potentially increase my vote share by 10%.”

The Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari too blames the NC and Congress for paving the way for a prolonged phase of violence in Jammu and Kashmir by rigging the assembly election in 1987. “As a result of extensive rigging in the assembly elections in 1987, these parties paved the way for violence in Jammu and Kashmir. This prolonged phase of violence eventually led to deaths and destruction in the region. These parties and their leaders are responsible for deaths and bloodshed.”

The only difference between the PDP and the discourse of other parties is that the PDP does not name the National Conference.

In 1987, an election in Jammu and Kashmir became a pivotal moment in its history. After the election, Dr. Farooq Abdullah was sworn in as chief minister. The polls are widely believed to have been rigged to maintain central government control over the state’s politics.

The main contenders were the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC), the Indian National Congress, and the Muslim United Front (MUF), a coalition of Islamic parties. It is believed that the MUF saw its success thwarted by alleged rigging, leading to a subsequent rise in militancy. Many MUF supporters turned to armed revolt. MUF leader Muhammad Yusuf Shah became Sayeed Salahuddin, head of Hizbul Mujahideen, while his 1987 election manager, Yasin Malik, led the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. At that time, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was the senior-most Congress leader in Kashmir.

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National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah says the PDP need to explain what Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was doing in the coalition (government formed in the centre after 1987). “They need to talk about all the massacres that took place when Mufti Sayeed was Home Minister. I have no problem in talking about 1987 but they need to answer for 1990 and onwards and all the massacres that Mufti Sayeed engineered.”

Responding Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra’s jibe of 1987, the NC spokeswoman Ifra Jan says, the PDP will know very well about the rigging since it was the PDP former President Mufti Mohammad Syed who was Indian National Congress state chief at that time, and the central government was led by Indian National Congress and its allies.

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Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi the National Conference candidate from the Srinagar constituency and senior leader of the party, who has emerged as one of the leading articulate leaders among the National Conference argues that these parties are raising 1987 as they don’t want to talk about the betrayal of August 5, 2019, when Article 370 was abrogated. He argues instead of preferring to talk about the abrogation of Article 370 they prefer 1987.

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