(Total boycott accompanied by gruesome mayhem clearly shows the oft bandied “Balloon” of elections has been fully deflated!)
George Bernard Shaw had said “Democracy is a balloon filled with hot air. Fools watch it when it rises and the clever pick their pockets”! This has been happening in Kashmir from the very start. The best excuse oft used by the Indian Government to get away from holding the UN mandated Plebiscite in Kashmir for its final settlement has been the holding of elections. It has been always portrayed as the substitute for the referendum claiming that the local people have full faith in the Indian democracy and are participating in elections to elect the local governments as well as their representatives in the Indian Parliament. It is true that many elections in the past have seen sizeable participation in spite of boycott calls. The common people have most of the time taken these elections to be a way to get their day to day facilities for carrying on the daily life. They have never construed these to be something to decide their ultimate future. In fact, in one of the recent elections, the slogan of “Bijli”, “Pani” and “Sadak” was coined. It was meant to convey that the people were voting for improving the power supply, water supply and the roads. These were the most essential items which had been neglected by the earlier governments elected by the people.Except during the period of militancy in the nineties, the boycott calls were hardly successful. The government still managed to get sufficient number of people to the polling booths by coercion or through inducement. The lowest polling percentage was only during militancy. There was rarely violence except during nineties when the militants attacked the booths and so on.
The present bye poll has seen a dramatic change. Apart from very low percentage probably the lowest in last three decades or so, there has been extensive violence. According to reports eight persons have been killed and scores injured some with pellet guns. There has been extensive physical intervention from the youth not only to prevent people from voting but even preventing the polling staff from discharging their duties. The violence and virtual mayhem during the polling for the Srinagar Parliamentary constituency in the three districts of Srinagar, Ganderbal and Budgam has been the worst ever seen in Kashmir during any elections held so far. In view of the violence, the other Bye election has been postponed. As stated Kashmir has been a witness to umpteen election boycotts from the time these were started here. Most of the time people preferred to stay home and did not venture out in response to boycott calls given by various parties. In spite of boycott calls some people would come out to vote in previous elections, especially the party workers of the candidates. In fact, there were many innovations when groups of people would be moved from one polling station to other to cast their votes. Nobody bothered and results were declared regardless of the riggings indulged in by various candidates. Recently, a very senior former Police Officer has publicly admitted that the elections in Kashmir have always been rigged. In fact, in many elections, candidates got elected without contesting, thanks to the returning officers rejecting nominations of all opposite candidates! This is first time that so much violence has taken place during polling. The headings of various newspapers reporting the events are reflective of the situation. “Black Day for Democracy”! , “Election Narrative Deflated”! And By (e) – Polls etc.
The most important question is why has this unprecedented violence taken place during an election boycott? The simple answer is that new generation of Kashmiri Youth, born and brought up in the conflict of the nineties of the last century are in no mood to compromise. Not only have they been brought up with the worst violence all around but have been subjected to continuous harassment right from the very start. The climax of that harassment gave birth to the symbolic rebel “Burhan Muzaffar Wani”! The long shut down with extreme violence following his death was like a Tsunami which swept the entire Kashmir Valley. A hundred persons killed, thousands injured and with hundreds losing eyesight. Thousands put in jails signifies the worst ever suppression of the people. The youth refused to compromise and they had only one slogan of “Azadi” everywhere. The additional resentment is the betrayal of the so called mainstream leaders who have always let down people in preference to power and material goodies. This was more than evident in the last Assembly election when the party swearing to keep the grizzly bear of Hindutva out of the valley simply hugged it with full force leaving the masses bewildered and shattered!
It is very unfortunate that the authorities in Delhi have not learnt any lessons from the last year’s uprising and are determined to crush the popular will with brute force. This is in spite of the fact that many intellectuals, political leaders, journalists and even top Army officers in the country have advised for restraint and opening of a dialogue with all stakeholders to sort out the basic political issue. This bye election should open their eyes. Kashmiri youth are now in no mood to compromise. Tragically, the fanatically motivated leadership is so much drunk with power that they may unwittingly by their violent actions initiate the disintegration of the country and Kashmir may become the fuse to light up that explosive fire.
Mohammad Ashraf I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir