BUDGAM: On Tuesday, a policeman managing vehicles on the road outside the polling station in Bon Zanigam, where youths pelted stones in the morning and by the end of the day only 95 voters out of 1,575 (5.8%) had turned up, recalled Syed Ali Geelani’s words to policemen blocking the gate of his residence: “Aap ki jamhuriyat ka janaza nikal raha hai (The funeral procession of your democracy is being taken out).”
Geelani had spoken the words during the parliamentary by-elections held last year in April. Those elections saw violence and killings in Budgam, a “human shield” incident in which a civilian was tied to the front of an army jeep and paraded around several villages, and a voter turnout of less than 3%. Official figures for panchayat elections held on Tuesday were slightly better: 13.25% overall voter turnout in two panchayat blocks of Budgam district, but the meaninglessness, and hollowness, of the elections was evident even to policemen and paramilitary troops.
“Elections have lost their meaning in Kashmir. No one is voting but the bureaucrats and higher authorities seem to be least bothered,” said the policeman who recalled Geelani’s words at seeing the state of affairs. “I think, India has lost its control in Kashmir, hence lost its legitimacy,” he added.
Polling was scheduled on Tuesday in two panchayat blocks: Sukhnag and Parnewa. In Sukhnag block, a polling station had been set up away from any residential area, at the Government Primary School in Brass. The scene there was grim. The school had been garrisoned by troops, and of the 338 registered voters here, no one had turned up till the voting time came to an end. After that, the polling staff and government forces both vacated the spot as soon as possible.
Two polling booths were established here by the authorities: Polling Booth-A and Polling Booth-B. Inside them, the polling staff sat idle. The booths had 159 and 179 registered voters, respectively. In both of them, not a single vote was cast all day.
Outside the single-room government school, paramilitary troops, policemen, and members of police’s special operations group (SOG) were on guard. “Don’t stay in front of the camera. It can harm you in the longer run,” a CRPF trooper told his colleagues and some persons who were outside the booth in civvies.
“Their (local) boy got killed in an encounter with government forces last month, so they won’t come out to vote,” another paramilitary trooper guarding the main gate said. He added that the locals’ “boycott call” of the elections was “legitimate”.
A local militant, Mukhtar Ahmad Khan, was killed along with an associate by government forces in a pre-dawn encounter last month in the forest area of Zoogu Arizal.
“As he was the last surviving militant and had joined militancy after a break of fifteen years, the people had hopes from him. So, in solidarity with him and in order to pay homage to him, people preferred to distance themselves from elections,” a villager said, requesting to not be named.
At the beginning of the narrow dusty lane that led to the polling station, scores of kids had surrounded a number of policemen and were speaking their mind to them. A policeman asked them, “Why don’t people vote here?” They replied in one voice, “Our Mujahid, Mukhtar Bhai, was martyred by Indian army.”
They added, “Woh hamara sher tha, bahadur aur hero (He was our lion, brave and our hero).”
Before the policeman could ask more questions to them, they said equivocally, “We will also join militant ranks when we grow older and will fight Indian army.”
Without uttering a single word, the policeman shifted his place and distanced himself from the discussion.