What The Polls Foretell

The municipal bodies’ polls are over. And across the four phases barely four and a half percent of people have voted while the 95 percent have boycotted. The outcome has been cited by the separatists as yet another proof of the massive support for the ongoing Azadi movement in the state. Government on its part has tried to put a brave face on the turn of events terming even the abysmal voting as some sort of  achievement. Governor Satya Pal Malik has also stressed the peaceful nature of the polls.  “Not A Bird Was Harmed,” Govenor said.

But the problem is that polls are not a simple democratic exercise in Valley. They have a meaning and a dimension that goes beyond the government formation or in case of civic polls beyond serving the purpose of empowering grassroots. That is, they momentarily challenge the most basic premise of the political conflict in the state: that Kashmiris want out of the system and secede. So participation in polls, all varieties of them, or boycott of them take on several interpretations. While New Delhi sells participation in the exercise as a vote for India, mainstream parties in Kashmir generally a vote for governance, separatists see the boycott as an endorsement of their cause.

The successful elections – albeit they have become rare now –  do pose a larger existential dilemma for the separatists. And in case of massive voting, New Delhi declares umpteenth victory in the battle for hearts and minds of Kashmiris and pretends Kashmir as a settled issue. Politicians in the fray lunge for the power they suddenly acquire.

At one level, this looks funny. And at another, the issue has dimensions to it that go to the core of the problem in the state. Funny, because all the political intrepretations of the poll participation are motivated and hence false. Serious because the truth is spread across all the interpretations. And over and above all these meanings, elections in Valley have an independent reality of their own: Generally, the people participating in polls are barely conscious of the contentious politics surrounding them and vote primarily for its utilitarian value.

So boycott becomes a powerful factor in the polls.  Basically used as a strategy to make a political point against New Delhi, poll boycott by separatists has now  grown into a dynamic that profoundly impacts the outcome. In the event of a maximum boycott in Srinagar, the result can go either way.

As is clear from the poll outcome, a significant number of the BJP candidates have won the municipal polls. In fact, several BJP candidates have won unopposed in Pulwama, the Valley’s militant hotbed.  If anything, it only underlines the farcicality of the elections in Kashmir. Far from reflecting the aspirations of the people, they only end up distorting them.



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