Kashmir: Vote boycott syndrome

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Views from Srinagar

Akmal Hanan

IN the build-up to the last Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2014, the public discourse was centered on vote-boycott dichotomy. This has been a feature of elections in the state for many years now with mainstream politicians campaigning hard to garner votes and separatist leadership working equally hard on enforcing boycott.
Apart from candid in-person talks, the issue also had its share of social media space with the people engaged in debates that lay bare the merits and demerits of these campaigns. However, there was a marked change in the content of these debates compared to similar debates in the past. On one hand a section of people opined that participation was not well-disposed as it procrastinated arriving at final solution of fundamental problem in Kashmir, which is of political nature.
This was in sync with the debates and opinions held by people earlier also. But on the other hand, there was a section of people who opined that the government would be formed anyway and that it would be a bigger mistake if the wrong government takes over that can further impede the process of finding a permanent solution.
During the build-up, I remember a social activist, otherwise a staunch supporter of breaking the status quo on Kashmir for its final resolution advocating the participation in polls for ensuring some form of internal governance in the State that could resolve people’s day-to-day issues, mainly concerning security, and providing basic necessities of life like water, power, roads, healthcare, etc.
The popular perception at that time was that the existing government had failed people on many fronts, including securing the peoples’ lives and property from forces’ wrath. The anti-incumbency factor coupled with the urge to live a dignified life in the world’s most militarized place saw people come out to vote in large numbers. Interestingly, the hearsay or unconfirmed reports in Kashmir back then also suggested that separatist leaders and other stakeholders were not totally in agreement to complete boycott as some apprehensions and uncertainty hanged over the Valley.
The reality is that people misduidedly voted, in Kashmir for PDP and in Jammu for BJP. Nothing can change it.
Many small and big events happened since the time PDP and BJP stitched an alliance and formed a coalition government.
The first CM of the coalition government, Mufti Sayeed, passed away being at the state helm for less than a year. After Mufti Sayeed, there were speculations on how the government will fare after the passing away of a political bigwig. The chaos and uncertainty spanning many weeks finally ended with Mehbooba Mufti being granted support by the two parties, PDP and BJP, to continue the term as new chief minister. Although there were some testing times when interests of the two mandates seemed to clash, but overall the government sailed without much trouble.
Then came 2016 unrest after a local militant and Hizb commander was killed in South Kashmir, which completely threw the Valley out of control. There is a good possibility that youth and people who participated in elections earlier in the region also joined protests and agitations that continued for weeks and even months.
The maximum restraint and SOPs were thrown out of the window in the summer unrest with forces doing real damage, for which the credibility of all mainstream politicians is at stake.
This has been seen earlier also when previous governments had to bear the brunt of public anger as forces went berserk while handling the situations in Kashmir. It now looks we have completed a circle in the state.
We stand at the same place, be it the political nature of Kashmir issue, be it the sense of security among people, or be it the development or employment issues of the people. Even in some cases things have gone from bad to worse.
In a first the army chief warned the youth who stage protest and resort to stone pelting during encounters of “treating them as anti-national elements and going after them”.
Earlier a Member Parliament called it quits admitting that forces excesses were beyond tolerable and that they were unbridled. If on politics we have gone a step behind, it has not been too good on the developmental side either, a side on which even the Prime Minister of India assured support and compliance. All inclusive talks on Kashmir have become lost in either political cacophony or absolute silence.
All the parties contesting in elections that are soon to be held will again work on their campaigns. The adversaries will try to show how bad either of them have been in an attempt to grab votes. Mainstream politicians and even parties will be formulating or may have already chalked out strategies. But in the end what are the mainstream political parties or politicians individually offering a Kashmiri? If it is just promises then should not they introspect on the hollow ones that they had made earlier also? The question now is from where will the political process gain credibility when it has lost a lot of ground in Valley.
To make new promises may recoil as people do not seem to be in mood for promises that are not kept. Election will take place, and someone or the other will be elected. But would people really accept them as their representatives or leaders, that is a matter of concern. The entire process has come to question because ‘force’ has been given a freehand instead of mutual understanding and dialogue.

—Courtesy: RK
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