The election commission’s decision to put off the Anantnag Lok Sabha bypoll for the second time is not just a rescheduling exercise but a reflection of the deteriorating situation in the Valley.
The poll panel late on Monday cancelled the bypoll, saying situation was not conducive for a free and fair election.
“… Incidents of stone pelting, violence and rioting have rather been on the increase including loss of life” since April 10, the poll panel said in a report available on its website.
The by-election to the parliamentary constituency in Jammu and Kashmir was earlier postponed to May 25 from April 12 after poll day violence in Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency left eight people dead and many more injured.
The EC’s Monday decision was based on reports it received from the state government and poll panel. Kashmir has witnessed a spike in violent street protests and stone pelting since April 9, when polling was held for the Srinagar seat.
Fearing worsening of the situation and Srinagar poll-like violence, the EC chose to cancel the bypoll.
The turmoil in the Valley is being compared to the violence the state witnessed in 1990s when militancy was at its peak.
Though the PDP-BJP coalition government has set a three-month timeframe for restoring normalcy, the EC’s 10-page order shows the administration has its job cut out.
The commission cited reports from the state administration, chief electoral officer and state’s divisional commissioner to say there was “no change” in the ground situation from the time the poll was first deferred on April 10.
“…There has been no noticeable improvement in the law and order situation in the four districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam,” the poll panel wrote.
These south Kashmir districts are the hotbed of militant activities.
What would worry the Centre and the state government more is the EC’s observation that there is “further continuous deterioration in the situation”.
Dialogue and governor’s rule
The anger on the streets has fuelled the demand for opening talks with the separatists despite the BJP’s reluctance.
On April 24, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi and pushed for dialogue. The PDP’s demand has been met with a refusal by the Centre which is opposed to talking to those “not loyal” to India, a euphemism for the separatists.
“We asked for governor’s rule because it would offer some respite to the people of Kashmir. Our demand to the Centre is to immediately start a process of dialogue and include the separatists,” Ali Mohammed Sagar of the opposition National Conference told HT.
The NC sees “EC’s collusion with the PDP” in deferring of the poll.
“The poll was deferred only to please the PDP, which could foresee its loss. Situation was bad when the Srinagar poll was held,” Sagar said.
Radha Kumar, a former interlocutor on Kashmir, backed the EC decision.
“It is well known that holding elections during conflict is not good. There is a tendency for the more extremists to get elected in such situations. People also feel free to vote during peace time and the sight of thousands of security men guarding polling stations is not a good symbol to speak of,” she said.
Kumar, too, favoured a dialogue process that would include separatists. “It is a shocking statement that the government will not talk to those not loyal to India; we are a country with a history of peace-making even with armed groups,” she said.
The BJP has dismissed the demand for governor’s rule, saying the situation would change for better.
“Elections will be held in due course. Violence is a reason for rescheduling polls but not the only one. The EC has taken note that Ramzan and Amarnath Yatra are coming up in May and tourist season will also pick up, so it was a collective of many factors,” a state BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.