The recent boycott of the boycott call over Legislative Assembly elections should not cause much surprise. Or should it?
The Election Commission apparently receives correct inputs from local intelligence units which correctly predict turnout percentages in various constituencies. In 2008, the same method was used to stare down ‘boycott’ supporters, when, despite massive protests for azadi in the summer, the turnout exceeded 60 per cent in some northern areas, like Gurez and Bandipora. The same experiment was repeated this time. And after turnout figures soared in Gurez, Bandipora and Kangan, the Prime Minister decided to ‘congratulate’ and ‘bless’ the Kashmiri people for having chosen ‘the ballot over the bullet.’
In 1996, it was HD Deve Gowda. In 1998, it was IK Gujral. In 2002, it was Atal Behari Vajpayee. And in 2011, when panchayat elections held post the 2010 summer witnessed over 85 per cent voting, it was Dr. Manmohan Singh congratulating Kashmiris on preferring ‘the ballot over the bullet.’
What has changed?
Did autonomy follow the 1996 LA elections? No. Was the autonomy resolution passed in 1999 implemented? No. Did the 2002 insaniyat ka daira become a reality? Was the Special Operations Group disbanded after 2002? Is Self Rule in currency after 2007? Was the AFSPA lifted after 2010? Or the Security Forces redeployed after 2008?
So, what changes on the ground?
Development? Meaning the construction of senseless, underused, heavily subsidised railway lines, or the never-ending, never-complete, expansion of two-lane highways to four-lane highways, or the construction of pointless and over-staffed government buildings, which serve no purpose other than keeping Kashmiris perpetually busy in finding an unproductive government job? Development, Mr Modi and Mr Rajnath Singh? Which means less government and more governance? Care to say those words in Kashmir, please?
Elections in Kashmir have served little purpose save enriching a majority of legislators who are bought and sold in the open market. The out-going Assembly had only a few members worth their salt in terms of performance, focus and popularity. It is unfortunate that most Kashmiris still root for tried and failed big party leaders and cold-shoulder well-meaning, and genuine local leaders.
The first phase of polling leads to three broad conclusions.
One, the high turnout means a vote for change, especially in constituencies which had high voting percentage in the last elections.
Two, despite the correctness and background of election boycott calls, people vote in large numbers.
Three, under these circumstances, the turnout will be exploited to suit the requirements of power-brokers in Delhi, and ‘victors’ will find themselves rich and famous overnight, unless people see through their nefarious designs.
This calls for an important detente between two important sections of Kashmiri society – the section religiously following the boycott call and the ‘pro-Kashmir mainstream’ being led by independent-minded legislators like Engineer Rashid. Political space in Kashmir has to be dominated by these two sections for the Kashmir issue to carry any national and international weight.
The premise is simple: if participation takes place anyway, and will be exploited anyway, then why not exploit the exercise for the benefit of Kashmiris, by electing honest, upright, and strong-willed legislators, who will not be bought and sold like cattle in the market to the highest bidder. It is better to vote, and have legislators who espouse the cause of a just, durable, and peaceful resolution of Kashmir, rather than allow those who sing different tunes in different seasons to be elected.
For whatever reasons, the round goes to India whenever elections are held in Kashmir. Is it not time to ensure that even if Delhi wins the ‘turnout’ battle, the results are firmly in favour of Kashmir?