Misreading brisk polling

High voter turnout simply stems from disenchantment with administrative system, Hindutva designs

The high
 voter turnout in the first phase of polls in Jammu and Kashmir may indeed be marginally higher than the turnout witnessed in all recent elections, and a surprise turn of events coming less than three months after the state, especially the Valley, was shaken by the worst ever floods. But it would be flawed to both call it historic or deem it to be a plebiscite in favour of India, as is being analysed by the media. There may be a huge gap in the voting percentage witnessed in the valley in the recent parliamentary elections but it is not a phenomenal rise as compared to the 2008 assembly elections. The enthusiasm in the assembly polls has always been more than the parliamentary polls. No doubt, voting percentage has seen a spiraling upwards graph since the elections were held in 1996 through coercion and co-option by the security forces. But that it has anything to do with confidence of the Kashmiri electorate in the Indian democracy and thus a sign of normalcy would be an unfair mis-reading of the trend. If that were the case, then impressive voting trends in the past would not have been followed by periods of unrest with high pitched ‘azadi’ slogans.

It is rather a tactical move on part of a vast chunk of voters who have in the last decade made a clear distinction between their political aspirations for resolution of Kashmir issue and their developmental needs, the latter bringing them to the polling booths. Long queues of voters have become the common sight in elections, and often heard are the remarks of the voters, as reported in media repeatedly election after election, that they are voting for employment and sadak, bijli, paani. While some pockets in the Valley, unaffected more or less by the militarized conflict, have witnessed fairly decent polling figures even in the worst of times, in the others hesitant voters appear to have been pushed to the booths due to the limitations and failures of the resistance leadership, that remains alive more due to the ideological moorings with respect to Kashmir dispute, in catering to the day to day needs of the public. The rising graph of polling patterns is due to the belief that administrative needs cannot be held hostage to a political resolution. 

The enthusiasm witnessed, however, in the first phase of ongoing assembly polls on Tuesday comes as a surprise. Low key polling was expected due to the increasing disenchantment of the Kashmiris with the electoral process and elected government, especially due to the multiple failures of the NC-Congress coalition government in delivering in terms of development and jobs as well as its repressive policy of shrinking space for dissent, not to forget the increased human rights abuse in different forms like random arrests and brutal action against protestors. The same reasons could have also brought the voters to the polling booth but the collective public disillusionment was further exacerbated by the recent floods and the inaction of both the governments in the state and the centre. The present unprecedented voter enthusiasm stems from the more recent factors especially the BJP’s designs to make inroads into politics of Kashmir through electoral contests, primarily banking on the boycott factor.

The hectic activity of the RSS cadres in co-opting sections of people including clerics, in making attempts to widen gaps between communities, ethnic groups and sects and the changing rhetoric of the BJP leaders, who have been saying one thing in the Valley and yet another in Jammu region. The BJP’s ambitions in Kashmir are being viewed as a step towards its Hindutva project and its larger communal goals in the region and this is what explains for the sudden spurt in the numbers of voters in Kashmir Valley. To call it a snub to separatist’s boycott call or a proof of the Indianness of the Kashmiris would not only be an error, it would be a blunder.