Blood and Boycott

Distinctions will inevitably be drawn between parliamentary and assembly elections to explain partly the enigma known as voter turnout in Kashmir – an argument usually developed into either the “faith in democracy” or the “loyalty to the Kashmir cause” dogma, depending on which side of the dogmatic line has been calling the immediate shots – literally.  But broadly, the argument would go thus: assembly elections have a bearing on the everyday life of the common people, while parliamentary elections are an apt opportunity to make a political statement. One may hazard, after the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls in Kashmir, that “strategic boycott” is a term psephologist’s could safely add to their already voluminous jargon, with firm belief in its enduring application.

Kashmir is just a few months away from its third assembly election post-2000, the year being a euphemistic chronological approximation to events that drastically altered the working of the world’s (or the international community’s) conscience, along with its vocabulary, with regard to solemn clauses its biggest military powers had flung at those far down the high table. But while events have come full circle twice over in the rest of the globe in these fourteen years, some basic postulates in the revival of the electoral process in Kashmir seem to have been forgotten.  The subcontinent had rung in the previous decade with a high note of optimism on being committed to resolve its most contentious issue, but nearly a decade-and-a-half later even the atmospherics have died down.

While the climate on one side has hardly been conducive to engender the wholesome outlook deemed necessary for mutual accommodations and understandings, the other side has been bedevilled by its leadership’s crisis of credibility, and the consequent loss of moral authority to take bold steps. This bilateral paralysis could not but have had a demoralising effect in Kashmir where hopes had been pinned on normalisation as a means to resolution. Bullets and bodies notwithstanding, the near-total boycott in south Kashmir this week is, therefore, also a clear message: Kashmiris will not be taken for a ride.

If only that had been all. The subcontinent’s perceptible political slide is perhaps the greatest challenge for voices of reason and sanity in its feeble conflict resolution framework. If the leadership on one side has been propped by the forces of intolerance, intolerance itself is about to assume the leadership on the other. The theory that hawks are placed best to hammer out solutions is about to be put to a field test – the catch being that opposing hawks need each other to sustain themselves, and a lingering emotive core to be hawkish about. Blood spilt in south Kashmir has this colour as well.