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Where did all the Kashmiri voters go?

india Updated: May 03, 2009 00:43 IST
Arun Joshi
Arun Joshi
Hindustan Times
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On the afternoon of April 30, this correspondent received an SMS from a resident of Hawal, a residential area in Srinagar: “Dekha?” (Did you notice?) “Radical elements have shown signs of resistance?”

The sender, a 22-year-old woman, was referring to the complete shutdown in Srinagar, when the Anantnag parliamentary constituency were going to polls.

That short SMS, in many ways, reflects a larger issue the much-hoped-for mainstreaming of Kashmir’s youth after the successful Assembly elections had suffered a setback. These days, even English-educated people in regular jobs openly say they are “insurgents”.

And though it may be premature to link the two, the polling percentage had dropped precipitously in Anantnag — to 26 per cent, from 56 per cent during the Assembly elections just four months ago, in December 2008.

“The people then voted for their basic needs like roads, power and water. By remaining away now, they have said elections can’t be a substitute to their right of self-determination,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Hurriyat Conference chairman.

Sajjad Gani Lone, the only separatist leader contesting the elections, said, “It exposes the futility of the government showcasing the Assembly elections as an indicator of success.”

So is this the first sign of Kashmir sliding back to the bad old days?

By Thursday evening, some youths, defying the “curfew” in Srinagar, pelted stones at the police. The police caught and thrashed them mercilessly. “It is unbearable. They are dragging our youth into the streets,” came another SMS from the same woman. She was feeling angry and helpless. a feeling shared by a number of people in the troubled state.

“What do you expect the youth to do when you lock down mosques and don’t allow Friday prayers at Kashmir’s main mosque?” asked the Mirwaiz. His hardline rival, All Party Hurriyat Conference chairman, Syed Ali Geelani added, “The voters of Srinagar and Baramullah (which go to polls on May 7 and May 13) will do the same.”

PDP leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed accused the state government of “pushing the state back into the gloomy era of cynicism, despair and alienation”, which is why the people, who voted so enthusiastically in the Assembly elections are staying away from the process now.

Replying to a question from HT, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah denied there was any “undeclared curfew” anywhere. “There were only a few stray skirmishes with a few dozen stone-throwing youths. We’re taking steps to create an environment in which willing people can go out and vote. Besides, you cannot compare Assembly elections with Lok Sabha polls.”

A clearer picture will emerge after May 13. But a 30 per cent fall in voter turnout remains a cause for worry.