Crisis in Kashmir is because of disenfranchisement

Despite the prevalent opinion that this recent Kashmir unrest sprung out of the blue, disenfranchisement is not new and should not be surprising. One way political legitimacy or “normalcy” is measured is through voter turnout in elections, and while turnout in the state of Jammu and Kashmir has improved over the past three decades, disaggregating voting trends reveal more alienation than “normalcy.”

Based on Election Commission data, the most recent Legislative Assembly and Lok Sabha elections of 2014 generated an average turnout of 44 percent in the Kashmir Valley while the rest of the state had an average turnout of 73 percent. While other parts of the state have “recovered” their levels of political participation prior to the outbreak of insurgency, the Valley’s 2014 turnout is nowhere near the 79 percent turnout in the 1987 state elections.

The difference is not an indicator of voter apathy in the Valley but a deliberate resistance to “normal” democratic behavior. In place of voting, increasing numbers of Kashmiri residents have turned to alternative forms of political mobilization like attending the funerals of militants or stone-pelting (usually young Kashmiri men throwing stones at state police or Indian paramilitary forces deployed in the region). In the summer of 2010 when Indian soldiers killed three Kashmiri civilians in a fake encounter, there were 2,794 incidents of stone-pelting reported throughout the Valley. The killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani by Indian security forces on July 8, 2016 corresponded with another escalation in stone-pelting. Between July and September of 2016, a span of just three months, there were 2,330 reported incidents of stone-pelting.

Upon closer examination of elections and political resistance activity, we find a strong negative correlation between voter participation and stone-pelting. For instance, the four districts with the lowest average voter turnout in the 2014 Legislative Assembly and Lok Sabha elections – Srinagar, Shopian, Pulwama, and Baramulla – were also home to the highest number of stone-pelting incidents just two years later. The districts with the lowest voter turnout (and presumably the highest disenfranchisement) also exhibit the highest levels of stone-pelting with a correlation coefficient of -.86 (a perfect negative correlation would be -1.0). A strong correlation held even under a variety of conditions such as accounting for population size, isolating state or national elections, and including/excluding the capital of Srinagar. In this way, unrest was somewhat predictable in the Valley. Where populations are not participating in democratic political institutions, civil unrest tends to escalate.

The strength of any republic is no greater than its weakest point. Insurgency in Kashmir has largely been militarily crushed, yet Indian policies have failed to secure a stable peace. A disenfranchised population with few opportunity costs can pose significant threats to India’s stability and reputation. And instability in this part of the world can quickly spiral into nuclear-tinged crises and conflict.



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