Polling again?

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By: Khursheed Wani

Romantic poets have been fascinated by the fragrance of flowers, riot of colours and the darling buds of May. When conflict overtakes the tranquility, the fragrance of flowers is suppressed by the stinking and nauseating gases diffused on streets to keep a population under check. May arrives but the charming buds on the trees and plants bloom unnoticed. The population anxiously looks at the blooming buds of a generation that lives under the barrel of gun.

So, in the season of picnics and outings, we have been told many weeks ago, that a rescheduled by-poll would be held for South Kashmir parliamentary constituency on May 25. We know the meaning of holding this election in the backdrop of what happened on April 9, when a similar exercise was conducted in central Kashmir. Eight youngsters protesting against the polls were killed and scores were injured. It was because of this mayhem that phase-II by-poll was rescheduled from April 12, to May 25. Conventional wisdom would have demanded postponing the election indefinitely as the ground situation in south Kashmir has not changed an iota over these weeks. However, it doesn’t matter when Delhi is hell-bent upon proving a point that it cannot be cowed down by the ground situation in Kashmir to sustain the claim that ‘democracy is flourishing in Kashmir’. They have ways and means to manipulate the ground situation. It hardly matters if some youngsters of Kashmir are snuffed out in the process.

This is a scary scenario emerging on the ground from the point of view of a Kashmiri. There are many indicators suggesting the by-poll is not likely to be averted. On April 26, the state home department issued an order to ban data exchange on 22 social networking sites in Kashmir. The timing period – one month – of the ban is significant. It would end a day after the by-poll has been conducted in whatever circumstances. If the social media, whatsapp groups and facebook messages were the real culprit for the public mobilization against the polls on April 9, the selective internet gag is aimed at stopping this phenomenon on May 25.

The ‘establishment’ is desperate to reset the election narrative on Kashmir, unsettled by the unprecedented resistance on April 9, that led to embarrassing seven percent turnout. This is a tough bargain but the ‘establishment’ seems to be ready for the calculated risk.

If that was not the case, the Election Commission of India would not have sought 74,000 paramilitary personnel from Delhi for deployment during the by-poll. The requisition was forwarded on a day when home minister Rajnath Singh chaired an inter-ministerial group meeting on Kashmir. If the proposal receives a nod, which is in all likelihood, the paramilitary companies would start arriving by May 12. Obviously, by May 25, they would be fanned out in every nook and cranny of south Kashmir where area domination by the army is an all time high. Imagine the quantum of additional deployment for single parliamentary constituency. For the sake of record, the ECI had sought the services of 70 companies of paramilitaries for the assembly polls in five states including the volatile UP.

Holding elections in south Kashmir has turned into a major ‘national project’ and all ‘nationalists’ have been roped in for its execution. First a clamour began to sack the government and impose Governor’s rule for restoration of order in the region. Amid the din, Mehbooba Mufti went to Delhi and held separate meetings with Prime Minister and Home Minister. Emerging from the meetings she herself announced that while she advocates dialogue with ‘stakeholders’ in Kashmir, the ground situation is not conducive for it. She gave a timeline for improvement in situation before any such initiative was taken up. Interestingly, there was no word from PMO on his meeting with the beleaguered chief minister. It appears that Mehbooba has been explicitly told that the by-poll would be held in whatever circumstances. Seemingly, she has been promised status quo and in return efforts to make the elections happen. After her return from Delhi, the ruling PDP did not issue any statement seeking postponement of the election.

On her return to Srinagar from Delhi, Mehbooba Mufti summoned a meeting of Unified Headquarters. This unprecedented meeting at Srinagar was held primarily to gear up the security establishment and the intelligence agencies to ensure the conduct of elections. Most of the officers participating in the meeting flew in from Jammu to take part.

During the past 27 years, the Kashmir Valley has gone through crucial phases and conduct of elections has invariably remained the most crucial. The Srinagar by-poll created a different scenario and south Kashmir is also projected to behave in a similar fashion. The significant factor in south Kashmir is the swelling number of armed militants who do not hesitate to remain conspicuous.  Before the internet gag, these militants released signature videos to emphasis their presence. There have been fatal attacks on at least three political activists including the district president of PDP in Pulwama. This clearly indicates the reality that the two warring sides have drawn out daggers in open. This is definitely a precursor to a lot of bloodletting. Avoiding such a situation would have been quite sensible but the ‘establishment’ has its own line of thinking. It is Doval doctrine at play.

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