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Standing Against the Tide

Pralay Kanungo

By James Michael Lyngdoh
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2004, pp. viii 254, Rs. 350.00


Violence and terror had subjugated democracy and peace in Kashmir. Militants’ demand for azadi was loud and strident. Force proved to be counter-productive. Dialogue did not succeed as well. New Delhi had been synonymous with mistrust; Farooq’s government had little legitimacy. Institutions had collapsed. Amidst this despair and cynicism, ‘free and fair’ elections had to be conducted to enable the Kashmiris to exercise their franchise and elect their ‘own’ government. An impossible mission indeed! But the man who made this mission possible was James Michael Lyngdoh, former Chief Election Commissioner of India. The present chronicle, while providing an exciting account of the historic 2002 elections in Jammu and Kashmir, makes an authentic analysis of the evolution and working of the Election Commission in a wider political context.   Lyngdoh proceeds with a precise, yet perceptive, historical and political background of Jammu and Kashmir. As part of the Jewish diaspora from Mesopotamia to Kashmir, the Kashmiris always demonstrated exemplary catholic sensibilities and secular inclinations. From the sixteenth century onwards they came under the subjugation of the Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, Dogras and, at present, from their point of view, Indians, Pakistanis and Chinese. But what they had most resented was “having been sold as chattel together with the ‘property’ of Jammu and Kashmir by the British to the Dogras” after the First Anglo-Sikh war of 1845-46. This humiliation later found expression in the emergence of Shiekh Abdullah’s leadership in 1934. Sheikh rejected Dogra sovereignty, asked the Maharaja to quit the valley and let the Kashmiris decide their own future.   Soon after India’s independence on 15th August 1947, Jammu and Kashmir confronted Pakistan-sponsored revolts. When tribals and irregulars from Pakistan made advances towards Srinagar, the Dogra ruler Hari Singh fled and eventually announced Jammu and Kashmir’s accession with India. Pakistan rejected this accession as fraud; Kashmiris had reservations as well. On the contrary, as Lyngdoh rightly suggests, Sheikh Abdullah initially perceived it as a means of preventing the state from being swallowed by Pakistan and then as a portal to land reforms. While Sheikh’s land reforms were a spectacular success, it propelled the expropriated landlords to rally under the banner of Praja Parishad with the support of the RSS, Jana Sangh, and Hindu Mahasabha, whose slogan was no duality of Constitution, flag, and Head of State in one country—a vehement opposition to Article 370 of the Constitution of India and the special ...

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