After Sunday’s Bloody Bypoll, Can Kashmir Hold An Election Soon?
If Centre truly wants democracy to flourish in Kashmir, it must respect the political aspirations of the people.
A prominent English daily in J&K aptly summed up the situation in Kashmir this Sunday as a "bloody day for democracy". Never before in our memory has the Valley erupted the way it did last weekend to reject the idea of ballot, the idea which is the foundation of any democracy. Today, democracy finds itself in a huge crisis in Kashmir.
The Valley is extremely angry, and rightly so. After forming an alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party, the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, promised moon to the people in its governance agenda for J&K.
From talks with Pakistan to addressing the developmental deficit, the ‘Agenda of the Alliance’ made all the right noises, drew as it did from the recommendations of the PM’s working groups on Kashmir.
But forget the moon, the saffron party hasn't even lit up a candle of hope in the state; conversely, it has embarrassed its coalition partner on many occasions. Worse still, it has brutally backtracked on some key promises made in the agenda, like the return of power projects, for example.
This betrayal has not only dented the image of PDP, but it has also pushed alienation and anger in the valley to an all-time high, adding to the festering wound called Kashmir conflict.
Growing Alienation, Violence on Rise
The State government was aware of the risks of holding elections in the Valley, and mounting security concerns in the wake of deteriorating law and order situation on the ground were conveyed in advance to the Election Commission.
Against the backdrop of the civilian unrest last summer, and the trend of local population rushing to encounter sites to save militants, which has resulted in 15 civilian deaths this year alone, holding election should have been of least priority for any government.
Going against the advise of its ally, the PDP, in J&K, not for the first time though, the Centre decided to act on its own. In the run up to Srinagar Lok Sabha bypoll, 200 companies of paramilitary forces were dispatched to protect around 1,900 polling booths spread across Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal districts, causing massive traffic snarls across Srinagar constituency.
Blood Over Ballot
While it is required to secure the polling stations two or three days ahead of the polling day, the security risk posed by the increase in attacks by militants ahead of the polling day, pushed the authorities to cut down the stay of polling staff and security officials to barely some hours.
As polling started on Sunday, so did violence. In many areas of Budgam district, the epicentre of Sunday’s violence, polling staff had to run for their lives as protesters barged into polling stations and indulged in vandalism.
The anger in the Valley is so widespread that elders in many localities of the district, in all earnest and peace, 'requested' the polling paraphernalia to shut down their little shops of democracy. Jubilant youth then jeered at forces walking out of polling stations, having called it a day, much before the day had actually ended.
In a video doing rounds on social media, a protective helmet worn by forces smashes on the ground, while a watchful youth urges others, "maar na kenh" (not to be assaulted), the CRPF man, an act in sharp contrast with what India and its military machinery has been doing to people in Kashmir.
At many places in Budgam district, Electronic Voting Machines were looted. In one area, of the 99 EVMs sent out, over dozen were missing at the end of the voting day, and at least one was severely damaged, forcing the Election Commission to order re-polling on 38 booths in the district on 13 April, another eventful day, but no more loss of lives hopefully.
Overcoming Trust Defecit
The Election Commission has taken a proper call. No one wants another bloodbath. But will the Valley be prepared to host another election next month? Given the heightened passions and deteriorating situation, it looks unlikely that the Valley is ready to host election even until next year. What will change in the course of next six weeks in the Valley is crucial.
The surging numbers in the ranks of militant groups, coupled with the Centre’s refusal to engage in a dialogue process with the Hurriyat Conference and Pakistan, and the governance agenda of PDP-BJP coalition yet to enter the implementation phase, the resentment is growing. With it, the space for mainstream politics will shrink faster than before.
If New Delhi truly wants democracy to flourish and not feed on the blood of Kashmiri teenagers, it must shun its historic rigidity and respect the political aspirations of the people. The PDP-BJP 'Agenda of the Alliance' is a remedy for many problems in today's Kashmir. There is no second opinion that the agenda must see the light of the day, lest the PDP-BJP alliance is consigned to the footnotes of history.
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