Elections in Kashmir has been considered both by the Indian government and by the secessionist forces as an indicator. India never lost an opportunity in claiming that the increased participation of voters in election — be it Lok Sabha or Assembly — as testimony to the people's growing disenchantment with the armed resistance. On the other hand, a lower turnout in elections would always prompt the rebel groups to claim that people by staying away from the polls expressed their dislike towards India.
Till recently India used to claim that the relatively better polling in elections as indicative of people’s endorsement of Indian sovereignty. But the Srinagar by-poll held on Sunday has changed this.
At least 10 people have died and only 7.14 voted in the election. Kashmir has been boiling ever since Hizbul commander Burhan wani was killed in an alleged encounter. The widespread use of forces and blinding of people using pellet guns have been condemned not just by movements in Kashmir, but by civil society groups across the globe. So does the almost total rejection by the people of Srinagar indicative of the new resoluteness of Kashmiris after the increased the state violence?
“They think the if they vote, it would be read as their commitment to India. Following the recent agitations and killings, people really don't care and are trying to keep themselves out of the current system, saying they have nothing to do with it,” Says a Srinagar-based senior journalist Riyaz Wani.
Over the last few month’s people have been disrupting encounter sites to save or free the militants. Even if they have to put their lives on the lines, they are doing it, despite a large number of soldiers deployed. So this was expectedRiyaz Wani, Senior Journalist
So does it mean that the by-poll was in a way a ‘plebiscite’? Riyaz Wani says that majority of the voters think that if they vote, it will be counted as a vote for New Delhi. It is a fact that whenever the majority of the Kashmiris took part in the election process, New Delhi has claimed it as a victory for their Kashmir policy and the people's willingness to be part of India. But rebel organisations in the past claimed that India has used force to make people vote in the elections a charge New Delhi has denied.
In the last Assembly election, more than 60 percent of people exercised their franchise. But it was held before the current surge of violence after the killing of Burhan Wani. Sunday’s poll percentage marks the lowest in 30 years.
If the incidents reported in the media is an indicator of reality, the alienation of people is getting deeper. Many people say the open support of the locals for militants is a new reflection of this.
Recently, whenever an encounter takes place, locals in large numbers come out to help militants. Many locals even have died after security forces fired at them. Army chief Bipin Rawat has openly warned the locals against supporting militants. “While our aim has been to conduct people-friendly operations, the manner in which the local population is preventing us from conducting the operations, at times even supporting the terrorists to escape, it is these factors which are leading to higher casualties among the security forces. We would now request the local population...local boys if they want to continue with the acts of terrorism, displaying flags of IS and Pakistan, then we will treat them as anti-national elements and go helter-skelter for them... If they do not relent and create hurdles, then we will take tough action”
Many civil society groups have termed this statement as an open license to the security forces to use force against locals. But people continued to come out in the open in large numbers and continued to give shelters to militants.
The elections primarily do not discuss or reflect the Kashmir issue, which further makes the citizenry away from the process, Editor of Kashmir reader Hilal Mir says.
India has been portraying elections as a referendum on its sovereignty over Kashmir. That theory is deflated now as people rejected itHilal Mir, Editor, Kashmir Reader
The government forces deployed in most of the polling stations of more than 1,500 in Srinagar, outnumbered the voters.
Speaking to SouthLive, about the possible repetition of same events in the upcoming Anantnag elections, Mir alleges that it is certain that the government would manipulate the polls. He further says, to some extent, the state government is also responsible for the lower turnout. If Anantnag goes for polls, it is expected that the footfall could even be lower because it falls in South Kashmir, the region which was rocked with unprecedented protests in July last year.
“Days before the elections, they disconnect the internet service. They create rucks and provokes voters ahead of polls and then claim the situation is not feasible,” Mir adds.
There is big shift on the ground these days. Earlier, people do not come to encounter sites, rather would try to escape to safer places. Now, they are running to the encounter sites.
The government here is not answerable to Kashmiris. Mehabooba Mufti is answerable to New Delhi. It doesn’t matter for them that people are angry over their alliance with BJP.Hilal Mir, Editor, Kashmir Reader
The state assembly election in 1996 was also seen a single-digit turnout.
“Election is one thing and addressing people’s concern is another thing. By holding elections, you cannot keep blind to all other issues. And what has happened in the last one year, particularly the protest followed by the killing of Burhan Wani and highhandedness of the government and the state created anger and further alienation of the people,” a New Delhi-based activist and research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Abhay Kumar says.
Alienation is there. It is deepening and widening and the less participation of people is the reflection of thatAbhay Kumar, Scholar, JNU
It also alleged that, much more than the previous governments, Mufti’s team “is less sincere and more aggressive, which is not good for a political solution.”
The incidents of violence are likely to be more than reported , since the communication channels are cut.
Over 200 incidents of violence are reported, mostly in Budgam district, which included stone-pelting, petrol bomb attacks, setting ablaze of a polling station, some vehicles and attempt to burn another two polling booths.
What is in store for the Kashmiris after failed Srinagar poll? More violence?