Potential turn of events will have a profound bearing on the situation
Will Kashmir vote in the upcoming Urban Local Bodies and Panchayat polls? This is a question few people want to hazard an answer in Kashmir. Reason for this is that the answer cant be in the absolute affirmative or negative. One can say that the election will be massively boycotted considering the abysmal security situation and a deep sense of alienation among the people but one can’t rule out a healthy participation too. That is, if history is anything to go by.
Last Panchayat polls were held in 2011 when more than 80 percent of the people cast their ballot defying separatist boycott call. This was surprising considering only a few months before, J&K had witnessed a five month long separatist revolt in which 120 youth lost their lives. Polls were held after a gap of 32 years. And they were a roaring success.
Earlier in 2008, the unprecedented 2008 Amarnath agitation was followed overwhelmingly by a record participation in the Assembly election only to be followed by yet another eruption in 2009. And then one more in 2010.
But at the same time, in April 2017, the state government struggled to hold the Srinagar parliamentary by-poll, even in zero-militancy and least troubled areas like Budgam. The election led to the killing of 8 people. The parliamentary constituency spanning one-third of the Valley clocked a meagre 7 percent turnout, the lowest ever in the state. In most of the places going to poll, the protesting youth advanced towards the polling booths, forcing the security personnel to use force to keep them at bay. The widespread protests and the killings in the by-poll later forced the Election Commission to postpone the Anantnag by-poll for a seat vacated by Mehbooba Mufti after she took over as the Chief Minister. The election to that seat is yet to be held.
So, all bets are off are about likely turn of events in the upcoming local elections. One could expect a moderate to overwhelming participation. One could also expect a complete boycott on the pattern of the last year’s bypoll.
And both potential turn of events will have a profound bearing on the situation. An adequate participation will come as an anticipated repetition of the history so far and be perceived as a setback to the intensified struggle for Azadi. And a predominantly observed boycott will signal an unprecedented alienation from New Delhi and a broadest possible endorsement and identification with the Azadi struggle.
Indications so far point towards a troubled exercise. The increasingly abysmal security situation makes a peaceful election highly improbable. And Government’s insistence to go ahead with the exercise has only further vitiated the security environment. Gutting of Panchayat ghars only bears this reality out. The situation could be greatly helped if the government rethinks the advisability of holding the elections in the prevailing situation.