Kashmiris participation in numerous past elections in sizeable numbers notwithstanding, the argument that it meant endorsement of New Delhi’s interpretation appears to be almost totally deflated. The statist argument — particularly after the armed rebellion of the 1990s against Indian rule of Kashmir — that elections in Kashmir were ‘repeated referendums’ in support of the status quo is all but rejected in Sunday’s polling and the accompanying protests, violence and the killings.
This marks a major shift, perhaps the most significant and politically informed one in the electoral history of the state. This Sunday will also probably go down in history and as a clear beginning of an epitaph for the purpose of holding regular elections in Kashmir. There is perhaps nothing bigger than this manipulative and coercive exercise between any desired change and the unbearable status quo.
The signs have been there since the summer of 2008, and have been a gathering storm since, particularly following the summer uprising of 2016. Only the so-called mainstream politicians have displayed an emphatic unwillingness to not read the writing on the wall. Sunday’s protests, the response of the government forces and the single-digit poll percentage of a little over seven is the clearest response the people of Kashmir — Srinagar parliamentary constituency to be precise – have given so far to the unacceptable conditions they have been confronting for decades. Just how will the lot of politicians who fight the elections in Kashmir now interpret a voter turnout that may not even match the number of political workers they employ in the name of democracy?
We could still ask the question: Is this a blip of a public response or does it really signal a major shift? An empirical answer to this question may be possible at the moment, but local youths joining the militant ranks after the killing of Burhan Wani and the consistent public solidarity displayed for the new militant during their gunfights with the government forces is an emphatic measure.
The bigger question though is that how will the state now respond to the people’s understanding of the structures of state violence and denial. If the most potent instrument of elections — after the jackboot on the ground — that sustained the Indian State’s moot argument about Kashmir is actually beginning to be deflated good sense would dictate an acknowledgement of the ground reality. Should that be the case, the Sunday polling should spark and spawn a willingness to begin discussing mechanisms for determination of the peoples will. The only other available couse would be more brutality, bloodshed and loss of life.