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

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Kolkata: 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 the condition of Jammu and Kashmir is not free of fear and intimidation.

The concern 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.

“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.

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 of 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.

In view of this situation, numerous concerned citizens and organisations from all walks of life have written to Ram Nath Kovind, the President of India. 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,

Sl. No. Names
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

 

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