The abysmal participation in municipal bodies’ polls has come as a sobering development not only for the state and central government but also for the long-time Kashmir watchers. For a predominant boycott of the exercise goes against the trend in the Valley so far. Notwithstanding the militancy and the separatist sentiment, polls since mid-nineties have largely been overwhelmingly participated. Interestingly, there was bumper voting in Assembly polls held immediately after the mass unrests of 2008 and 2010. In fact, more than 80 percent of the people cast their ballot during Panchayat polls held in 2011, defying Hurriyat boycott call. This was surprising considering only a few months ago, J&K had witnessed a five month long separatist revolt in which 120 youth lost their lives. Only exception to this rule was the last year’s Srinagar parliamentary by-poll when not only did people largely not vote but the exercise was also resisted, leading to killing of eight people.
If the by and large comprehensive boycott of the ongoing civic polls is anything to go by, this trend looks set to stay. The facts about the first phase cant but surprise you: No vote was cast in 92 of the 149 wards that went to polls in this phase. In 69 wards, candidates were elected unopposed. There was no candidate in 23 wards. Except for 18 wards of Kupwara with around 32.3 percent of polling and one ward of Budgam with around 17 percent polling, people in other parts of the Valley mostly stayed away from the exercise. This is a profoundly telling development. If anything it starkly shows how the policies of the BJP-led government have completely alienated Kashmir. Four and a half years is a long time for a policy to bear fruit. And if we go by the current situation, the Doval Doctrine has only ended up deepening the disaffection in Kashmir. Never before has the gulf between the government and the people widened to such an unbridgeable level.
And if any policy has made a redeeming difference, it was a policy of reconciliation and engagement towards Kashmir and Pakistan pursued by New Delhi from 2002 onwards to 2007. Ironically, the policy was begun by the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a BJP leader, and taken forward by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh through his first term. The policy had greatly reduced militancy in Valley and helped build a momentum towards the resolution of Kashmir. If anything is urgently needed to address todays Kashmir situation, it is to return to the same processes and policies. We urgently need a reversal of Doval Doctrine on Kashmir and the resumption of the engagement with the state. The boycott of the civic polls should be a wake-up call for the centre to drastically alter its approach to the state.
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