Violence Mar Elections

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Violence Mar Elections
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Article 35-A

“Once you push people to wall these things will happen and today in those areas where people used to defy separatist boycott call people stayed away from the polling booths. There is a strong message hidden in this and New Delhi should seriously think over it,’’

Asem Mohiuddin

Srinagar: Amid 7.14 percent polling and killing of eight civilians on the polling day in Srinagar Lok Sabha seat even the officials of Election Commission of India (ECI) were surprised as two years ago brisk polling was recorded in the constituency when assembly elections were held. This time violence and killings on the polling day has left even the mainstream politicians worried who blame New Delhi’s ridged approach responsible for this volatile system. Also lowest ever polling marred with violence is also not a good sign for democratic process as people in Valley have started losing faith on the electoral institutions.Photo: Altaf Hussain

The poll figures of Srinagar Lok Sabha seat are even less than last parliament elections when poll percentage was over 26. The observers termed the 7.14 percent turnout the lowest ever in last fifteen years in any elections in Jammu and Kashmir.  In fact the more concerning was the scale of violence that marred the elections and warns that all is not going well in border region. The situation has completely changed even in those areas where people used to cast their franchise without any fear. More than 100 civilians and over 100 security men were also injured in the protests when people attacked polling stations in the Srinagar – Budgam Lok Sabha seat to enforce the electoral boycott. Such was the magnitude of situation in otherwise ‘peaceful’ Budgam district that polling staff were forced to stop polling in the afternoon at more than 100 polling stations that witnessed seven deaths. At many places even people took away the voting machines and damaged to disrupt the polling process.

J&K’s Chief Electoral Officer, Shantmanu post election press conference said that there was 7.14 percent voting in the elections at Srinagar Lok sabha seat which is less than 26 percent of last parliamentary elections held in the constituency. “There were incidents of violence especially in Budgam district in which petrol bombs, stone pelting and also one polling station was set on fire, there are places in which elections didn’t occur in this matter decision will be taken by the Election Commission of India.”

He said that 7 people were killed and more than 100 policemen also received injuries.

Owing to dull pre-poll campaigning by the political parties due to growing graph of violence post Burhan Wani-Hizb commander’s killing last year, the turnout was expected less. But the scale of violence was unexpected. Infact the violence during the first phase of elections prompted government to deferrer the elections until May 25 for south Kashmir’s parliamentary seat.  

“We have been deceived by the politicians of mainstream parties so we don’t want to vote,’’ Ghulam Mohammad Khan, a resident of Beerwah said. He said that even those people who used to defy separatist boycott call preferred to stay away from the polls this time. “In last one year we have seen killings of civilians, deaths and pellets. How can they expect us to vote,’’ said a youth who was standing outside a desolated polling station at Soibough.

Photo: Altaf Hussain

Photo: Altaf Hussain

The officials admit that the recent spate of unrest in 2016 which witnessed over 90 civilian killings discouraged the people to exercise their ballot. They anticipated further violence and strict boycott in militancy infested south Kashmir following which the polls have been deferred until May 25.   

“The graph of militancy in south Kashmir is considerably high these days and they won’t let peaceful culmination of polling.  We fear strict boycott and violence on the day of polls. So we deferred,” said the senior police official, wishing not to be named. “The situation will be highly complicated”.

While the fate of Farooq Abdullah, senior political leader and the patron of National Conference was seized in the electronic voting machines with around the poll of 80000 votes, the Mufti scion Tasaduq Mufti is trying his luck from Anantnag’s parliament seat- the seat vacated by her elder sister Mehbooba Mufti after she became chief minister and contested elections from Anantnag assembly seat that was represented by her father.

This is first time when Tasaduq, who joined the Peoples Democratic Party after the death of his father last year is contesting any election and the violence in Srinagar parliamentary will have its impact on the south Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the violence in the elections has once again raised a valid point how fragile the situation is in Kashmir and a small incident is enough to ensure the long time political instability in region. On the other hand these elections has also raised serious questions over the role of New Delhi in Kashmir, especially in the back drop of last year’s violence that left more than 90 people dead and thousands injured. New Delhi has so far failed to initiate concrete steps that could have acted as a balm for the people who had set high hopes with the government once it came to power. Instead of any concrete resolution it seems that the New Delhi’s approach towards the Kashmir is to tackle the issues through iron hands that have started back firing.

 “Once you push people to wall these things will happen and today in those areas where people used to defy separatist boycott call people stayed away from the polling booths. There is a strong message hidden in this and New Delhi should seriously think over it,’’ said a senior political analyst who has covered elections since 1996.

“After analysing today’s polling it seems the political investment made by New Delhi over these years has gone down the drain,’’ said a senior mainstream leader.

Even sitting legislator from Khan Sahib Hakeem Yasin said that today’s incidents on the polling day and the killing of eight civilians is an eye opener for the mainstream politicians. “The mainstream politicians should seriously think what went wrong with the people.’’

Working president NC and former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah said that he has contested six elections and has never seen such violence. The time has come when policy makers in New Delhi should pay special attention towards Kashmir otherwise the situation could turn from bad to worse.

Not only has New Delhi failed to implement recommendations of different working groups and leaders who visited Kashmir after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. The Centre didn’t even try to implement suggestions given by parliamentary delegations that visited Kashmir during agitation.

As evident from the statements from across the border that Pakistan has direct hand in Kashmir situation, New Delhi must explore the options to engage the hostile neighbour to ensure sustaining peace in the border region.  There is also a need to engage with the estranged section of Kashmir especially separatists by New Delhi and state government.

Kashmir is in the grip of violence. The youths are rushing towards encounter sites without fearing for their lives disrupting counter insurgency operations. The security forces engaged in the combat are forced to maintain restrain at the cost of their life. So New Delhi and state government must realize the gravity of situation and take multiple political and diplomatic measures to restore the peace in state.

Another serious thing is that changing political scenario in India is having a direct impact over the situation in Kashmir especially in the circumstances when both separatist and mainstream politicians speak same language against the expanding influence of right wing Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).

Photo: Altaf Hussain

Photo: Altaf Hussain

Currently, going by the ground situation it seems that people in Kashmir think that New Delhi has pushed people towards the wall and they have no option but to fight. Even as evident from the recent poll campaign, the Congress and National Conference parties both in opposition almost spoke the language of separatists.

 “I had voted in previous elections but this time I will not vote as our votes in the past neither brought development nor peace but dead bodies and dead eyes of our young generation,’’ Shouts an elderly man at this reporter at polling booth in Budgam.    

It is high time for New Delhi to read the writings and initiate effective measures to stop the growing disturbance in the border state.  Otherwise the time is not far when Kashmir will be back to hay days and witness the new phase of militancy.

The author can be reached at bhatasem@gmail.com

The story appeared in print edition of April 12-18, 2017.

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