Despite banning the largest socio-politico-religious party of Jammu and Kashmir — Jamaat-e-Islami — and the pro-independence party — Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) — the present political dispensation in New Delhi has failed to woo the voters in Jammu and Kashmir to come out in large numbers to vote in the Lok Sabha polls.
In the first four phases of the parliamentary election, the Kashmir valley has seen from low to moderate voting. The most votes polled in the Valley were from north Kashmir, having polled 34 percent only.
Political analyst Sheikh Showkat said that the “system” needs to revisit its muscular policy towards Kashmir.
“Despite crackdown on separatists, most of them being in confinement and detention, there was low voter turnout (in Jammu and Kashmir). This indicates that election boycott which has been happening over again and again in the state is not result of any coercion or pressure of militants,” says Showkat.
North Kashmir is considered to be relatively “normal” area in the Valley, yet the apple town Sopore boycotted the election.
Peoples Democratic Party’s founding member Naeem Akhtar said that the mainstream parties in Kashmir have failed to convey the importance of this parliamentary election to the people of the state.
“This election will be a turning point for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The dominating forces presented by the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) now have made Kashmir their target. Article 370 will be the next Babri Masjid now,” Akhtar said.
Another area in Kashmir which saw a dismal polling in the Valley was the political hub Srinagar. The parliamentary constituency recorded just 14 percent voting despite hundreds of youth, alleged “stone-pelters” and the political activists being put behind in state and outside state jails.
In the turmoil-hit Jammu and Kashmir, polling for the Lok Sabha is being conducted in five phases.
On 11 April, the polling for two Lok Sabha seats was held in Jammu and Kashmir. While the Jammu parliamentary constituency witnessed over 72 percent turnout, Baramulla in the Kashmir Valley only saw 35 percent voting. By the end of the day on 11 April, a Class 7th was killed in the government forces action.
Engineer Sheikh Abdul Rasheed, a former Independent MLA from north Kashmir alleged that that the boy was deliberately killed by the “opposition” parties “using agencies”.
“They (opposition) wanted Engineer to lose the election. They wanted a boycott in north Kashmir. What else than boycott can a killing ensure? Election boycott has always in favour of the opposition,” Engineer said.
Political analyst Gowhar Geelani has also questioned the “legitimacy” of the political process in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. He shared an interesting polling analogy.
“The Srinagar parliamentary seat, where voting took place on 18 April (phase 2), saw 90 polling booths with zero turnout. The Baramulla Lok Sabha seat (phase 1) recorded zero turnout in 17 booths. On April 23, zero voting was recorded in 65 booths in Anantnag Lok Sbaha seat. Overall, in three separate phases of elections, the Kashmir Valley witnessed zero percent polling in 172 polling stations in Baramulla, Srinagar and Anantnag,” said Geelani.
“The single digit polling percentages in Sopore Assembly segment (3 percent) and Bijbehara (2 percent) actually question the legitimacy of the process itself in many ways,” he adds.
The high profile Srinagar parliamentary constituency recorded only 14.1 percent turnout, even as the overall voting percentage in Jammu and Kashmir stood at 45.7 percent in the second phase of the Lok Sabha election. The high overall turnout in phase 2 of the Lok Sabha polls in Jammu and Kashmir was due Udhampur parliamentary constituency, which recorded over 70 percent voting, highest in the state.
“In Srinagar, there is the least presence of militancy and the same remains true for Baramulla. So, it is high time that the system ponders upon the reason and revisits its muscular policy,” Showkat said. Baramula voted in first phase of the Lok Sabha polls on 11 April.
In Srinagar, the Eidgah segment saw the lowest voting of all with a record low of 3.4 percent with only 2,105 votes being polled.
“Both the National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have committed mistakes in the past but the direct and indirect support they received from the party in power at the Centre had enforced their position as important actors in finding a solution to the Kashmir issue. For the first time, India’s ruling party is treating these mainstream parties in Kashmir Valley as ‘anti-nationals’,” said Swain.
NC Spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar said that given the volatile situation in the Valley, going to the public for votes has been a humongous task in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls.
“The last five years have seen large scale resentment against arrests, cordon and search operations (CASO), killings and a huge increase in militancy,” he said.
South Kashmir has been a real no go zone not only for the political mainstream workers but somehow for the security establishment as well. Such is the uncertainty in south that no open rally has been addressed by any of the mainstream parties. Almost, all the meetings in south have been held closed doors and only party workers were present in the closed-door-meetings.
The situation in the south has worsened so much that for the first time in the electoral history of India.
South being the citadel of PDP saw only 13.61 percent turnout in Anantnag Lok Sabha seat which went to polls on 23 April.
“This parliamentary election has seen the most voluntarily-done election boycott because people are angry that Kashmir has been converted into a jail. It is a prison. You cannot have a piece of graveyard and ask people to enjoy voting,” said Akhtar.
Bijbehara, the home town of the Muftis saw the lowest turnout of only 2.04 percent. Justifying the lowest turnout Akhtar said that the people should also look how NC is doing, gaining or losing, in their strongholds instead of pointing fingers at former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
“Why people are pointing fingers only at Bijbehara (south Kashmir) segment why not Soura, Sonwar or Burn Hall segments as they have also been bastion of Farooq Abdullah. Polling was low in these segments as well. If you see the census of the encounters, Bijbehara has been the worst hit,” Akhtar added.
Professor Swain says that the Doval Doctrine has become counter-productive in Kashmir.
“The so-called strong arm strategy has never worked, is not working, and will never work. They only make their core Hindutva support base happy, but India is losing Kashmir in a big way. This is typical hard line Israeli strategy that the Modi government is following and it is nothing but self defeating,” he added.
Swain also said that south Kashmir has become particularly difficult for the security forces as it has become the major recruitment area for the militant groups, and at the same time, infiltration from the other side of the Line of Control (LoC).
The fifth phase of polling on 6 May (final for Jammu and Kashmir) will be a litmus test for the mainstream political parties. The day would witness the election in three militancy hotbeds of Pulwama and Shopian districts, home to most of the local militants.
Dar said that the party is hopeful that the people would come out in heavy numbers and vote against the right wing forces. “NC is hopeful that people in south Kashmir will come out and defeat the designs of those who are hall bent to tinker with states special status,” he said.
The PDP on the other hand claimed that the party is certain that people in both the districts especially in Pulwama will make sure that Mehbooba wins the south Kashmir seat. “Though there was a low voter turnout in the first phase, PDP is still leading in the first phase,” said PDP’s additional spokesman Tahir Sayeed.
“There is a fear in these areas but we do hope that people will come out and vote in next two phases. We are getting the same positive response like we got in 2014 election. Mehbooba started her career from south Kashmir. It is the love of the people of south Kashmir that keeps her and the party going,” added Syeed.