Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Years after Farooq Abdullah resigned as the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir and his National Conference (NC) was marginalised and reduced to a soft target in 1990, his political detractors began claiming that the separatist militancy in Kashmir was a consequence of the “massive rigging in the Assembly elections of 1987”.
Abdullah’s arch-rival, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, claimed that the Congress party’s electoral alliance with the NC in 1987 had left the mainstream opposition space vacant which was eventually filled up by the separatists. Mufti was the President of the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) when Farooq Abdullah was dismissed and Ghulam Mohammad Shah was installed as Chief Minister in 1984.
Mufti as the President of JKPCC was himself a part of the NC-Congress campaigning against the Muslim United Front (MUF) which was dominated by the pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). Most of the MUF candidates, including the winners Syed Ali Shah Geelani (Sopore) and Abdul Razaq Mir (Kulgam) and the losers like Mohammad Yousuf Shah (Amirakadal), were drawn from the JeI.
Geelani and Mir were also among the five JeI candidates who contested arguably the most rigged Assembly election of the Congress rule in 1972 in collusion with a faction of the JKPCC. Even as the factional feud between Syed Mir Qasim and Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq dimmed to an extent with the latter’s death in December 1971, some 22 JeI candidates were fielded with the covert support of a faction of the JKPCC. Mufti was a Minister in Sadiq’s government.
Those were the days when the election authorities under the command of the Congress government used to declare nominations of almost all the opposition candidates invalid on flimsy grounds. As a result, many of the ruling Congress party’s proxy candidates in 1962 and most of its official candidates were declared elected without polling or despite losing in the Assembly elections of 1967 and 1972.
Finally, Jammu and Kashmir witnessed the first clean democratic exercise in the Assembly elections of 1977 when the Congress party had lost power to the Janata Party, Morarji Desai was the Prime Minister and L.K. Jha was the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. The elections were held under the Governor’s rule.
As Sheikh’s NC swept the polls with more than a two-third majority (47 out of 76 seats)—winning 39 out of 42 seats in Kashmir and leaving only two seats of Handwara and Iddgah (Srinagar) to the JP -the people of valley reposed faith in the Indian democratic system. Despite a high-octane campaign and a grand alliance with the valley’s major opposition parties, in which PM Desai himself participated, the JP bagged a total of 13 seats -11 in Jammu and 2 in Kashmir.
Jamaat-e-Islami was completely routed in the 1977 elections. It won only Geelani’s seat of Sopore. Even that one was snatched away by the NC in the Assembly elections of 1983.
The NC under Sheikh’s leadership dismantled the JeI which was previously supported by a faction of the JKPCC. Sheikh retained his influence till his death in September 1982, denying any space to the JeI and its student wing Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba. But immediately after Sheikh’s death and Farooq Abdullah’s taking over as Chief Minister, Pakistan’s military ruler Gen Zia-ul-Haq, in collusion with the JeI Pakistan, started an overt operation to decimate the NC and weaken the Indian control in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Iranian Islamic revolution and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan were tactfully exploited to raise religious passions in Kashmir. Years later, it assumed communal overtones. Moustapha Akkad’s Hollywood blockbuster ‘Lion Of The Desert’, a biopic on the Libyan tribal leader Omar Mukhtar, which was screened at Srinagar’s Regal Cinema, was used to villainize Sheikh three years after his death.
The dramatic developments came full circle from 1979, when the Kashmiri yelled “Ham Goli Khanyenge, Bhutto Ko Bachayenge” against Zia, to 1989 when they shouted “Mard-e-Momin Mard-e-Haq” in praise of the same Pakistani military ruler. The eventful year of 1989 began in the valley with massive street demonstrations against Salman Rushdie, the author of ‘Satanic Verses’ against whom the Iranian Islamic leadership issued a fatwa of extermination. It made the land fertile for a full-bloom insurgency.
There is incontrovertible evidence of some electoral manipulation in the Assembly elections of 1987 but most of the chroniclers and eyewitnesses insist that these were only a fraction of the phenomenal rigging exercised in all elections from 1947 to 1977. Independent observers maintain that the election was rigged in less than 8 segments in the valley in 1987.
Why the Kashmiris, who did not protest over the brazen, phenomenal electoral manipulations from 1947 to 1977, pick up guns and grenades over the partly rigged elections in 1987?
While the valley’s so-called amphibian politicians—siding opportunistically with India and Pakistan—chose to ignore this question, remained conveniently silent, and peddled the Pakistan-sponsored narrative, the answer came from two authentic insiders of the militancy.
In the year 2007, ex-JKLF militant Abdul Ahad Waza told Daily Excelsior that the 1987 Assembly elections or the rigging had nothing to do with the outbreak of the armed insurgency. He revealed that the process of recruiting the Kashmiri boys and sending them to Pakistan for guerrilla training had begun way back in 1983-84.
Waza claimed that he was a member of the first group of the JKLF recruits which crossed the LoC in 1984. He revealed that recruits of at least six groups, including Waza, had stayed at the former Pakistan Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid’s “safe house” near Rawalpindi regularly from 1984 to 1988. Contrary to the common belief, Waza claimed that Yasin Malik was a member of the 7th group of militant recruits that crossed the LoC and reached Pakistan in 1988. There was no contradiction to Waza’s revelations.
In 1989, Waza was arrested in Kupwara. He told his interrogators that the ISI had given him the task of killing the then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. After his release in 1991, Waza again remained associated with a separatist political party that had its guerrilla wing. He, however, did not pick up the gun.
Some years later, the most prominent ‘victim’ of the 1987 rigging, Mohammad Yousuf Shah, who was appointed as the ‘Supreme Commander’ of the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen in 1991, was asked in two media interviews in Pakistan as to why he had contested the Assembly elections under the solemn oath of upholding the Indian sovereignty and Constitution in Kashmir in 1987.
Shah invariably asserted that the MUF’s real objective was to tactfully contest the elections, win some seats, enter the Assembly, and float a resolution for the Plebiscite which, according to him, would have brought India under unprecedented world pressure for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. In that unexpected scenario, Azaadi, according to him, would have become a reality.
Waza’s and Shah’s disclosures, subject to independent verification, suggest that Zia’s ‘Operation Tupac’ started in 1983-84, not as a result of the Assembly elections in 1987-88.