Fear & Resistance Replace Hope With Which Kashmiris Viewed Polls

Frustration, anger and resistance explain the abysmal turnout during the Srinagar bypoll, writes David Devadas.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Frustration, anger and resistance explains the abysmal turnout during the Srinagar bypolls. (Photo: Rhythum Seth/ <b>The Quint</b>)

With a viral video doing the rounds of a man in Budgam being used as a human shield by the Army against stone-pelters, The Quint is re-publishing an article from its archives. This article was first published on 12 April 2017.

The Quint’s View: Stone-pelting might be a daily occurrence in the Valley but does that justify the extreme step taken by the Army? A dangerous fallout of such incident could be a rise in incidents of violence by the restive youth in the Valley. It’s quite unfortunate that such an incident happened when people are already seething with anger and frustration, something evident in the low voter turnout during the bypolls.

Also Read: ‘It Was Do or Die’: Army Reacts to Viral Video of Man Tied to Jeep

Various factors explain the violence and strong boycott of the by-election for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat on Sunday.

First and foremost is disillusionment. Kashmiris by and large are frustrated with the entire class of politicians. The state of the roads, even highways, and the sluggishness of other development work has eroded whatever enthusiasm there used to be for elections – and the hope for good governance.

Also Read: Srinagar Lok Sabha Bypoll: EC Orders Repoll in 38 Polling Stations

Ground-Level Anger

During a tour last week of south Kashmir (which was also slated for a by-election for the Anantnag seat), one came across even longtime workers of both the PDP and the Congress (which is backed for that seat by the National Conference) who said they would not vote.

Also Read: Bullets, Blood, Boycott: How Kashmiri Media Read Srinagar Bypoll

People, particularly the youth, in even such relatively remote and hitherto politically active areas such as Dooru and Damal Hajipora spoke of boycotting these elections. They explained that their respective representatives made false promises but did nothing for them or their villages.
A soldier stands guard as women queue up to cast their votes during byelection for the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary seat in Srinagar on 9 April 2017. (Photo: IANS)
A soldier stands guard as women queue up to cast their votes during byelection for the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary seat in Srinagar on 9 April 2017. (Photo: IANS)

Resolve to Resist

A second factor is the resolve to resist that has gathered steam, particularly since the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani last July. Many young people in the worst-affected districts, Pulwama and Kulgam, say they are determined to step up the fight.

So intense is the enthusiasm for resistance in some parts of south Kashmir, that a PDP office-bearer in a remote part of Pulwama district asserted that the security forces would not be able to lay a cordon around the village in which we were sitting. He was referring to the mobilisation of stone-pelting crowds of youth and other resisters that have become common in recent months.

Also Read: In Photos: 8 Deaths, Protests Cast Shadow Over Srinagar Bypolls

Remains of the bus that was set ablaze by protesters in Budgam during byelection for the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary seat on 9 April 2017. (Photo: IANS)
Remains of the bus that was set ablaze by protesters in Budgam during byelection for the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary seat on 9 April 2017. (Photo: IANS)

Fear is a Key

A third factor is fear. Militants have made it known that they will attack polling stations, and wreak retribution on those who go to vote. This is far more widely expected in south Kashmir than it was in the Srinagar constituency, where at least eight persons were killed by security forces during anti-election activism.

Security forces as well as common people estimate that there are about 200 militants, mostly local boys, in south Kashmir. By contrast, militants have not shown their hand in central parts of the Valley.

The threat of reprisals was very real during the Assembly elections of 1996 and 2002, but this sort of fear has been unknown during polls held thereafter.

Indeed, in 1995 and `96, many villagers across Kashmir had made whispered requests for the army to herd them to polling booths so that they could explain to militants why they had voted.

Also Read: Civilian Killings Amid Intense Protests Mar Srinagar Bypolls

Antagonism to BJP

This time, there is a greater willingness to accept the boycott willingly. The difference is that, in light of the peace that followed a year after the 1992 Punjab Assembly elections, elections in Kashmir were widely expected in `95 and `96 to bring a respite from violence.

Most people desperately wanted it then. Now, a large proportion of the population has no such hope. In fact, hope has been replaced by frustration and anger. In south Kashmir, the bastion of the PDP, hopes from the democratic process took a huge knock after the PDP formed a coalition with the BJP after the 2014 Assembly elections.

Not only is it widely known to be an anti-Muslim party, the beef vigilantism of some Hindutva activists, and the rhetoric of some BJP activists in Jammu against the state’s special status, has rattled many Valley residents. They particularly resent the coalition since chief minister Mehbooba Mufti specifically asked people to vote for her party in order to keep the BJP out of power.

Protesters pelt stones on security personnel during Srinagar Lok Sabha bypoll, in Srinagar on 9 April 2017. (Photo: IANS)
Protesters pelt stones on security personnel during Srinagar Lok Sabha bypoll, in Srinagar on 9 April 2017. (Photo: IANS)

Inclement Weather

The weather is a fourth factor. It has been an extremely cold winter, and continues to be so even when spring should have arrived in full flower. There was heavy snowfall, accompanied by thunder and lightning, on Wednesday night and through much of Thursday.

This has further complicated the challenge of conducting elections – for the teachers and other staff requisitioned to conduct the polls, for security men, and for the transport and other personnel involved.

Also Read: Nationalism’s Rejection Marks a Shift in Kashmiri Youths’ Thinking

(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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