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Srinagar’s 7% voter turnout means a rejection of everything ‘Indian’

The Srinagar election has put a huge question mark on the democratic process and the separatists – who may not represent all protestors – must certainly be feeling chuffed.

opinion Updated: Apr 11, 2017 07:04 IST
Harinder Baweja
Harinder Baweja
Hindustan Times
Kashmir Bypoll,Mehbooba Mufti,Jammu and Kashmir
Kashmiri protestors clash with security forces near a polling station in Srinagar on Sunday. (AFP)

Mehbooba Mufti, chief minister of the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir, has made a huge political statement by calling for the cancellation of the election in Anantnag on April 12. It is a seat she vacated as Member of Parliament and her brother, Tasaduq Mufti, is the PDP candidate.

Mehbooba’s call comes on the heels of the violent bypoll in Srinagar where eight were killed and only 7% cast their vote. The meagre turnout, by no means, reflects a popular mandate and many would argue that the Srinagar election should be declared null and void, for the winner – with a little over 3.5% of the vote – is clearly not the people’s representative.

If Anantnag votes – as it is slated to in less than 48 hours – the percentage could even be lower because it falls in South Kashmir, the region which was rocked with unprecedented protests in July last year after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani. South Kashmir is – was would be more appropriate – the PDP’s stronghold and a single-digit voter turnout would be a direct referendum on Mehbooba’s legitimacy as chief minister.

The large scale protests on Sunday can be interpreted as a rejection of the democratic process by the Kashmiris. To be more precise, it is a rejection of mainstream politics, including of the National Conference (NC), which once towered over the state through its founder, Sheikh Abdullah and subsequently through Farooq Abdullah, who was in the fray in the bypoll.

Disturbed by the violence, Farooq at one point, while blaming Mehbooba for not providing security and creating a conducive environment, said, many NC workers were unable to come out and vote.

The frightening away of party cadre – which could well be repeated in Anantnag – is a serious development. The village-level worker is the best political thermometer and officials in Srinagar – who do not wish to be named – reveal that the workers did not want to come out in defiance of the boycott call issued by the separatists. They did not want to be ‘marked’ and so, preferred to lie under.

Former chief minister, Omar Abdullah, tweeted to say that he’d contested six elections in 20 years but ‘’never seen this level of violence.’’ He’s not completely off the mark.

In the 2014 assembly election, people came out in large numbers to vote. At 66%, the state recorded the highest turnout in 25 years. Sunday’s 7.14% (revised from 6.5%) was the lowest in 30 years. The level of violence in 2014 too stayed low and people – especially in the Valley – came out in larger numbers in response to Mehbooba’s call to keep the BJP from crossing Banihal, the tunnel that connects Jammu with Kashmir.

Does Mehbooba’s coming to power through the alliance with the party she wanted kept out, have anything to do with the current cycle of violence? The answer can only be yes. The alliance is seen as ‘unholy’ and the protests – which are showing no signs of abating since July 2016 – are direct fallout of what the Kashmiris view as a deep betrayal.

Successive governments in New Delhi have interpreted large turnouts – like the one in 2014 – as a sign of normalcy; as Kashmiris embracing ‘India’. Will the government now analyse the 7.14% as a rejection of anything ‘Indian’?

Whatever their final analysis, Mehbooba by asking for a postponement to the Anantnag election has only admitted that the ground situation is beyond the control of her government.

She was certainly not in control when Srinagar polled.

The Srinagar election has put a huge question mark on the democratic process and the separatists – who may not represent all protestors – must certainly be feeling chuffed.

This is precisely the time for a serious rethink on Kashmir. It is the clearest wake-up call for the Narendra Modi-led government.

First Published: Apr 10, 2017 14:32 IST