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Rediff.com  » News » Kashmir valley's mood of despair will impact voter turnout in polls

Kashmir valley's mood of despair will impact voter turnout in polls

Last updated on: February 26, 2013 19:08 IST

It is amazing how the political class, instead of learning lessons from costly mistakes in Jammu and Kashmir that took a toll on life itself, seeks to repeat them, writes Seema Mustafa, in an article exclusive to rediff.com

Kashmiris in the Valley have been divided to some extent about the elections. They have voted resoundingly when relations with Delhi have not been at the lowest ebb and they are keen to have a say in matters determining their present and future. But they have stayed away almost totally when the levels of trust deficit are high and hopes are bleak.

This is largely because the Valley continues to harbour different thoughts and ideologies, ranging from extremists such as those supporting militancy to the separatists to the so-called separatists. The vote for the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Valley is negligible, but the two parties do have offices and a marginal presence, the latter more so than the former.

In its cynical exploitation of Kashmiris, the Congress and National Conference have lost the plot as it were with the execution of Afzal Guru. That this took place in an election year speaks volumes about the incompetence of the political class, as it has ensured that the Valley that might have again registered a divided vote, is fast consolidating behind those calling for a boycott of the elections.

Perhaps this suits those in power, as the polls can remain rigged, and figures given despite near empty ballot boxes that will declare the National Conference and the Congress as the victors again. The BJP is of course busy using the Valley to communalise and polarise votes in the other regions of Jammu and Ladakh, while the Peoples Democratic Party and its once dynamic leader Mehbooba Mufti seem to have gone into hibernation. Little is heard from them these days except for efforts to ensure that the PDP says nothing to upset the Congress or for that matter the BJP so that it can have the necessary support to form the government in the state, in case, of course, it gets the numbers.

The ordinary Kashmiri who had often defied all odds to vote for panchayats and governments he felt might help in the state’s and therefore his development is feeling helpless after Guru’s execution. It is yet another message from New Delhi that it does not care, and as a young Kashmiri who met this columnist recently said, “We had lost faith in the executive and the legislature and felt that the judiciary was our one hope. But with this verdict (Guru), we have lost all faith in the judiciary too. Tell me, where do we go, what do we do?”

The reaction is even more intense, as despite all odds the Kashmiri had not embraced terrorism and extremism, keeping a corner of the eye on New Delhi for meaningful measures that could instill hope that a better future was finally on the anvil. Instead of this gesture, the message has been continuously one of rejection with the Guru execution proving to be the proverbial last straw for the young people who for the first time admit that they might go their elders’ way, waiting and waiting for the clock to turn.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has so sunk his credibility that no one on the streets really believes anything he says. And this after he did manage to secure the vote of the younger generation of Kashmiris in the last polls, with many hopeful that he would bring change and freedom and justice to the Valley. The disappointment was deep, as many young people confided, so much so that no one now seems to be interested in even looking at the ballot box again.

More so, as there is no new leadership in sight with the PDP and the National Conference having burnt their bridges with the people, and the Congress and BJP never really having even a brick to stand on in the KashmirValley.

Omar Abdullah, who was absent during the police firing on demonstrations and funeral processions that killed 118 young boys in Kashmir valley, is finding the going tough. He is unable to make a dent in the wall of resentment and alienation with his rhetoric for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act; or more recently his passionate opposition to the execution of Guru after the deed was done. As youngsters, some of whom had voted for him, point out, “He is another puppet, he speaks but does nothing.”

In the midst of all this time is moving forward to elections in Jammu and Kashmir later this year. It is almost certain that these will be polarised with the Congress and the BJP battling it out for the seats in Jammu and Leh. But in the Valley the call for boycott, which is a certainty, will elicit support, far more support than it had in say the panchayat elections where people came out to vote in several parts of the Valley.

And where the attack on some panchayat elected leaders by militants negated the process, as the state government and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were unable to convince the village representatives that their security would be a top priority.

A weak government unable to protect its people, and militants with their guns trained on them, do not really leave the people with a  choice, do they? And the choice is even more limited when the weak government is also perceived as an oppressor in the Valley.

The year is not going to make a major difference to the mood, since to prevent the anger and depression from pouring out the governments of both Srinagar and Delhi will resort to curfew and arrests and regular crackdowns. The new Jammu and Kashmir Police Bill that the Omar Abdullah government has proposed is draconian at all levels as it gives sweeping powers to the government and its police force. It makes the dreaded Public Security Act tame in comparison as it turns Jammu and Kashmir into a police state.

It gives overarching powers to the chief minister who will head an all powerful State Security Commission, having also complete powers to appoint any minister of his choice (preferably the home minister) as the vice chairman.

While the entire Bill needs to be countered, perhaps a most reprehensible feature is the provision to set up village defence committees. This is on the lines of Salwa Judum that had wreaked such havoc with the people in the Naxal affected belt, bringing innocent villagers into the line of fire of both the militants and the police. This short-sighted cynical initiative had to be aborted because of the tragic repercussions.

It is amazing how the political class, instead of learning lessons from costly mistakes that took a toll on life itself, seeks to repeat them. The proposal by the Jammu and Kashmir government seeks to repeat all the mistakes committed in Jammu and Kashmir arising from draconian laws that suppress rights and freedoms to a point where they contribute more to alienating the local populace than in mending fences.

Seema Mustafa