Between Three Decades

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By: Khursheed Wani

The just concluded by-election for the Central Kashmir parliamentary seat was unprecedented. Like the most maligned assembly elections of March 1987, the election discourse showed up again in similar connotations, three decades after. The 1987 elections might have triggered an armed rebellion, as many Kashmir experts assume it to be, the situation that reflected during the by-poll on April 9, and subsequent re-poll on April 13, is a sequel to 2016 unrest triggered by rebel Burhan Wani’s killing.

In between the two polling dates, was the “surrender” of the Election Commission of India to postpone the by-election for south Kashmir, scheduled for April 12.

In Beerwah, the army tied an alleged stone-thrower over the bonnet of a vehicle with ropes and piloted a convoy of armoured vehicle into a village. On a loudspeaker someone was asking the locals to watch the fate of stone-pelting. This reminded a scene from a winter in 1990s when in the same area, the army tied up body of a slain militant and passed through the villages to create scare

Going by the level and intensity of defiance exhibited by people on April 9, it is not beyond comprehension that April 12, would have turned out to be one of the bloodiest days in Kashmir’s history. I have reasons to say this.

In a locality around Pulwama’s Rohmoo pocket, around 150 youngsters gathered at a place and took an anti-poll pledge. They pledged if the electronic voting machines reached their village, they would destroy them and not allow their return. All the youngsters offered to ‘sacrifice’ their lives for the objective of this peculiar poll-boycott.

In a neighbouring hamlet, a group of schoolchildren was seen searching for security personnel in the premises of a closed local school, two days before the polling schedule. They wanted to throw stones on the polling staff to frustrate the election process. In this backdrop, postponing by-election was a ‘sensible decision’ though there were other options.

The variety of videos which went viral during last week, despite phased ban on internet, underscores the gravity of ground situation. The way paramilitary personnel were escorted away by high-tempered anti-poll protesters in Srinagar outskirts and how the personnel walked along without opening fire is a curious case. Even more shocking video is from Darbug village in Budgam where a handful of stone throwing youngsters could have been chased away by firing in air. An overzealous security man, however, aimed at one of them and shoots him dead. The youngster was hit in his head from a very close range.

In Beerwah, the army tied an alleged stone-thrower over the bonnet of a vehicle with ropes and piloted a convoy of armoured vehicle into a village. On a loudspeaker someone was asking the locals to watch the fate of stone-pelting. This reminded a scene from a winter in 1990s when in the same area, the army tied up body of a slain militant and passed through the villages to create scare. Have slain militants now been replaced by alleged stone-throwers?

The amateur videos are a grim reminder of the ground realities. There are countless unrecorded and unreported incidents of this nature, which make the situation extraordinary and unprecedented. It can turn grimmer if the powers that be perpetually remain in the denial mode as they have been during the recent past.

The 2016 rebellion remained open-ended though it dissipated by the end of the year for a plethora of reasons including fatigue. Delhi mistook the silence on streets as surrender. The winter had, surely, offered an opportunity to the government to engage with people. The opportunity was deliberately lost because the situation in Kashmir, in which the local population is under a continuous grind, was cashed in on at different places like in UP elections. The timid and compromised state government lacked authority to take a parallel course. It left the scars of 2016 unattended and wounds festering. The jackboot and iron bar policy continued. The rulers did not give up any opportunity to irritate the population, especially the youngsters. The killings were justified umpteen times and the killer mill was kept in circulation. The avoidable Chadoora encounter is the most brazen case where three youngsters were brutally done to death. Ironically, the local stakeholders including separatists, are highly marginalized. Modi government has twisted the Kashmir policy in a manner where most of the other stakeholders have paled into insignificance. This is the reason the unionist politicians are unable to take the discussion beyond the electoral politics.

Have slain militants now been replaced by alleged stone-throwers?

Following the April 9, killings of eight anti-poll demonstrators, the National Conference leaders were more focused on saving the vote-laden EVMs. If they could have thought beyond the electoral politics, their plunge into the elections should have been a matter of debate. Likewise, Tasaduq Mufti pleaded postponement of phase-II with a rider that if ECI disagrees,  he will go ahead. This attitude does not go unnoticed. The squeezing space that unionists feel is a function of their outlook on sensitive political issues.

But the scenario does not augur well to separatist leaders who are buoyed up over the poll boycott. On the re-poll day when 20,000 security personnel commanded by senior police officers were overseeing the process, still 709 people came out voluntarily to cast their votes. This means the currency for the electoral process has not evaporated. Voluntary participation actually triggered a debate amongst separatists whether or not to link elections with tehreek. If such a scenario arises again, how would the separatists deal with it? The Srinagar by-election has put them on notice.

 

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