Why Everybody Has A Stake In Low Turnout In South Kashmir?

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by Waheed Ur Rehman

As India’s most fragile district heads for elections in the next few days, the inside stories of Pulwama are largely untold.

Having lived and brought up in Pulwama I have seen this district always in turmoil and still fully fertile in terms of politics and human resources. But this election is not about the participation of people as much as it is about the ensuing restrictions.

Forces personnel deployed outside a polling station in Bijbhera on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Kl Image by Shah Hilal

Post Pulwama attack the entire political debate in the country is revolving around Pulwama and the political narrative is all about banning different elements of society and withdrawing the basic tenets of democracy.

Dance of democracy that elections are, were envisaged to be about boosting democratic values and assimilating anger and also about democratising the dissent in Kashmir. It was the only means to retain dignified peace and institutional credibility that has eroded due to years of violence and turmoil.

But today election is an invitation to insecurity reducing political workers to endangered species. That Election Commission of India (ECI) itself declared holding South Kashmir elections in three phases was a declaration of abnormality in the area and a warning to everyone from the Government to the citizens about the pitfalls entailing elections. At the same time, the Government reduced the security of many political leaders aimed at restricting their political activity.

Another grave step was clubbing of polling booths in South Kashmir, particularly in Pulwama. Clubbing of polling booths realistically is aimed to restrict polling in local villages in view of security scenario and aimed to secure polling staff and EVM machines.

The question then arises who is safe if not the polling staff and security deployments. If the aim is to protect polling booths, who is there to protect the voters?

Everyone seems to be celebrating election and the lower turn out in their own ways. ECI conducting it in three phases has conceded defeat and still celebrating. Security forces failing to provide a conducive atmosphere for the voter safety will lead to a limited and low turnout and yet they will be jubilant about smooth conduct of polls in the first two phases.

Even with the limited turnout, no party seems to be ashamed but all celebrating the win in own ways and telling how boycott helps them win as franchise is limited and turnout in fewer numbers helps them in manipulating the results.

Hurriyat sees it as a response to their boycott call and calendar. Militants also celebrate it as a victory of their writ in the area. Security forces rejoice incident-free elections and BJP feels it is leading elections banking on the boycott.

Hundreds of youngsters are rounded up to ensure deceptive calm in the area and violence-free election. Those youngsters are also voters but will stay inside to allow a limited polling day. Encounters are continuing every day and elections are also expected amid killings. Constant mourning is going on in the area and at the same time, people like us are expecting turnouts.

As soon as people got whiff of low turnout, stakeholders start celebrating it. Congress felt they have an edge as PDP bastions are not voting, while NC, which was complacent in the beginning of south elections also believe they have an edge as turnout went low. Top BJP leader campaigned in the south making a statement that it is possible for them to rise in the south as boycott has favoured them as well. Within the mainstream, many rebels of PDP credit themselves for low turnout and have found their reinvigorated relevance in the boycott.

Pulwama hates to be in news for all wrong reason and attributing the Highway attack to Pulwama was nothing but to brag and tag Pulwama totally with terror and violence. Pulwama is the discussion for national elections and is mobilising people across India for votes but back home it is demobilising people to come out as they feel hurt, insulted and generalised after the Highway attack. Nothing can compensate for the damage done by tagging the Highway attack with Pulwama.

Waheed Ur Rehman Para

Amid Deaths, funerals and arrest spree the dance of democracy is to be unveiled. This dichotomy is a telling tale of disconnect between the ground realities and the system. Despite the wails and cries of sorrow, every village was welcoming and receptive to the mainstream leaders.

Elections on the ground are being all about forgetting. Empathy and forgiveness are missing.

(A youth leader of the PDP, the author is campaigning in south Kashmir. Ideas expressed are personal.)

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