The bypoll for Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies has generated little political heat in Kashmir. The candidates in the fray have been able to organize fewer rallies. The public contact has been strictly limited to workers meetings. And in case of the independent candidates like the 25 year old Mehraj Khurshid Malik, the strategy is to head to the distant suburbs and meet people individually. The by-poll is thus very unlike 2014 Assembly election which was overwhelmingly participated by the people. But this time, people are evincing little interest in the process. There is also no interest in the outcome or a visible partiality towards any party.
The reason for this is the unrest last year which led to the killings of around a hundred people and the blinding of several hundred. The hangover of the turmoil is still playing out on the ground. Though the anger is mainly directed at the ruling PDP which is blamed for the human rights excesses last year, the National Conference and the Congress are hardly the favourites. People see them responsible for the past carnages. For example, in 2010, it was the NC-Congress alliance that presided over the killings of 120 youth. And the pump action guns which in 2016 impaired the vision of around 1100 youth were introduced that year.
But NC and Congress can still be a default choice for the voters. Or if the Hurriyat call for boycott is more widely observed, the outcome could be contrary to expectations. Hurriyat contends that the elections in J&K are sold by New Delhi as a vote for India, so boycotting them sends out a contradictory message. But the call for boycott creates a curious electoral challenge for the mainstream parties: what matters for them is the percentage of boycott and also whose supporters will boycott. More people boycott the exercise, more the chances of distortion in the outcome. So much so, the parties who start up as favourites wind up on the losing side and the ones plagued by anti-incumbency and a reputation of non-performance return to rule again. So while the reigning public mood is against PDP, the party might end up winning one or both the seats and lay claim to a whole-hearted support from people. But even if NC and Congress pull it off, it will only be a default win.
The by-poll thus tells you little about Kashmir. Nor will it make any difference to the existing political state of affairs. The election, however, will be primarily about the degree of participation of people in the voting. Making an emotional pitch for boycott, Hurriyat G chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani has asked people as to how can they vote after joining funerals of militants. Geelanis appeal is certain to resonate with a large section of the voting population in Valley. But while a widespread boycott will certainly reflect the anger and alienation on the ground, it will make no difference to the political state of affairs. Truth is that the approach of the mainstream parties and the Hurriyat to the evolving situation in Kashmir remains adhoc and reactive. Kashmir needs a politics commensurate with the challenges of the prevailing situation. But none of our political outfits is up to the challenge.
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