Improved Participation

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by Sheikh Qayoom

Parliamentary election 2019 in Srinagar was a welcome departure from the by-poll of 2017. Just 7.14 per cent votes were cast in that by-poll while eight civilians were lost in an election process that was totally marred by widespread violence.

The fear in the security grid could not have found a worse expression than the tying of a young man to the bonnet of an army jeep by a soldier who feared being attacked by stone pelters. It was a typical example of the protector looking for protection from those whom he was duty bound to protect!

Major Leetul Gogoi will be remembered for long in Kashmir for this ‘act of bravery and the presence of mind shown by a soldier in the face of danger’.

Sheikh Qayoom

Ironically, the young man tied to the bonnet of the army jeep, Farooq Ahmad Dar, had cast his vote in that by-election! Had he not joined ‘the democratic process’ he would have been saved from the wrath of facing the ‘fruits of democracy’.

No fiction is ever stranger than fact. In 2019 election process, Dar was doing election duty at a polling station in the same area where he was paraded in 2017. Unable to continue his embroidery work because he had sustained injuries to his hands during that pageant of bonnet parade, Dar is now working as a sweeper on consolidated wages in the state health department.

2019 Lok Sabha poll recorded 14.2 per cent voter turnout. That is not what is essential; the most important thing is that no human life was lost during the poll process.

Clashes did occur at over a dozen places in Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal districts. Over 20 cops including two deputy superintendents of police (DySPs) suffered injuries. The security grid deserves to be commended for exercising restraint when their vehicles were smashed and injuries caused to the occupants.

As expected the eight voting segments of Srinagar recorded the lowest voter turnout. Budgam and Ganderbal had relatively better voter turnout. Democracy is not only about those who join the voting process, it is also about those who prefer to stay away.

Separatists, as usual, called for a complete boycott of the poll process to assert their stand that electoral process is no alternative to address the aspirations of Kashmiri people for whom a peaceful solution of the Kashmir is the only acceptable way out of the present cycle of violence.

Among the contesting candidates is the five-time chief minister of the state and the president of the National Conference (NC). This master of electoral politics is challenged by Syed Aga Mohsin of the PDP, Irfan Raza Ansari of the PDP and Khalid Jahangir of the BJP among others.

Dr Abdullah avenged his 2014 defeat by PDP’s Tariq Hameed Karra in 2017 when he defeated Nazir Ahmad Khan of the PDP.

Article 370, 35A, Wazir-e-Azam, Sadray-e-Riyasat, autonomy, fight against divisive communal forces were the high campaign points this season. Except for the BJP that is committed to the abrogation of the state’s special status, all other candidates have played emotional chords to win votes.

Those who came out to vote also said at places that they were voting to send somebody to the Lok Sabha who would champion the cause of the state’s special status.

Whether that aspiration takes a material shape or not remains to be seen as much as the possibility of success of those who threaten the state’s special status. An agenda of alliance between the BJP and the PDP had sent the BJP’s commitments of abrogation of article 370 and 35A to the back burner in 2015.

There is little doubt that another alliance in the state between the centrist and regional parties after the results of 2019 state assembly elections would send the ‘BJP’s manifesto commitment’ to cold storage for another six years.

While touching all the emotional chords and blaming rivals for everything that went wrong in the state, rival leaders in the NC and the PDP left little unsaid about each other. Twitter handles became weapons of verbal wars between Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

The pot left nothing unsaid about the kettle. Mehbooba blamed Omar for joining hands with the NDA when he was a junior minister in Vajpayee headed the central government. Omar blamed her for joining hands with the BJP when its right wing face was at its forefront with Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister.

Mehbooba Mufti said her father had held the ‘Jinn in the bottle’ as the agenda of alliance between the PDP and the BJP had agreed to hold dialogue with both Pakistan and the separatist leaders.

Omar lambasted the PDP by asking questions as to how much of that agenda of the alliance had been fulfilled during her or her father’s tenure as the state chief minister.

It was a war of attrition that continued throughout the poll campaign in Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. Dr Farooq said Modi was behaving like the German doctor, Adolf Hitler. He also called Modi ‘Fira’oon’ and said he would meet the same fate of the latter. One often wonders as to whether the politicians have an agreement of electoral campaign amnesia.

This was not only true of the NC or the PDP alone, even the Prime Minister, Modi said the two families of Abdullahs and the Muftis had destroyed three generations of Kashmiri people. The NDA had made one member one of these two generations their minister and two members of the other family became chief ministers with the support of the BJP. All is fair in love and war. But, it is all fairer in the electoral war in India.

(Author is a senior journalist based in Srinagar)

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