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Kashmir: On People And Voting Trends – OpEd

Kashmir Valley. Photo by Saad siddiqui56, Wikipedia Commons.Kashmir Valley. Photo by Saad siddiqui56, Wikipedia Commons.

The assembly elections in the state of Jammu and Kashmir are approaching and a high rural turnout in the state, especially in the Valley, is now the trend.

The elections in Kashmir Valley will be held in four phases from November 25 to December 20, in which several parties are trying their luck and are eager to form the government.

Nevertheless, observation and interactions reveal that election fever significantly differs from Jammu to Kashmir to Ladakh, with divisions based on regional ideologies and politics, as well as people’s like or dislike for particular parties. The trend suggests that just two waves seem common, the BJP wave in Jammu and Ladakh and the PDP wave in the Valley. The Valley actually divides Kashmir Psephology into two main collective perceptions; i.e., a boycott loving brigade and keen voters.

However, amid the election fever, the violence factor does remain intact, despite a sufficient security apparatus in place.

Every time Kashmir goes to elections, violent activities tend to rise reminding us of the continuing dissent of a significant chunk of the population against the electoral process that has so far not been seriously dealt with. However, amid this uncertainty and aspirations for change, varied perceptions come to fore.

Inevitably, the youth end up questioning the very utility of voting in Kashmir.

A research scholar on asking whether he will vote in the upcoming elections says, “How many MLA’s visit their constituencies and keep meeting masses once they get elected. so far and how many issues have actually been tackled? They (leaders) are hardly concerned about Kashmir and Kashmir issue once they get elected; therefore voting for us is a futile exercise. Who to vote is a huge dilemma”.
Another young man is of the opinion that even if we chose some MLA’s, they and their queries are hardly taken to the assembly and actually solved”.

In the 2014 elections, the fact remains that Kashmiris fail to show much of an interest in the Lok Sabha polls, as compared to assembly polls because most of the populations believes that Kashmir does not really matter in such elections as compared to other massive states.

Amid these thoughts, there are however obvious trends, people’s interests, guesses and comments.

A teacher from central Kashmir believes that not parliamentary elections, but assembly elections influence Kashmir politics. He says,
“To most of the masses here, these are the real difference making elections and have a lot to do with peoples’ progress, so they consider them significant.”

People also argue that these elections have a direct link to their issues, as MLA’s can make a significant difference in their areas, but unfortunately nothing much has happened in aftermath.

As expected, speculations and people’s self-conceptualized opinion polls, to be read as wild guesses, are all over the place.

A friend from Jammu guesses, “In Jammu division again it will be BJP vs PDP because of both Modi Wave and PDP wave but BJP’s denying tickets to its sitting MLA’s may cost them dear.”

Meanwhile, the mainstream politicians, especially the heavyweights, are being garlanded and welcomed by the masses in their respective support areas and the institution of blame game is in place. Right now political giants like Gh. Nabi Azad, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Prof. Bhim Singh, Gh. Hassan Mir, Omar Abdullah, Sajad Lone are trying their best to reach the masses with their ideas besides BJP trying their best to make their visibility strong in the valley. Also PM Modi’s personal visits planned to the valley will matter a lot.

Manifestos are not new either, except some developmental slogans. Same old stories, same old dreams continue to haunt the Valley.

The National Conference (NC) this time surprisingly is not relying on its age old autonomy card,  but development is its big slogan which the critics ridicule it for due to its perpetual failure to achieve the same. They criticise the ruling party for not realising the revocation of controversial AFSPA despite improvement in people’s security and the invisibility of the government during recent floods is proving the last nail in the coffin.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — the main opposition party —  talks of K-issue resolution, development, healing touch and safety and dignity of Kashmiris. PDP possesses a sound backing especially in South Kashmir and that is why Mehbooba Mufti of PDP defeated Dr Mehboob Beg of NC in the parliamentary elections this year. Indeed,  Congress vs PDP is going to be an interesting fight in the south Kashmir.

There are other candidates as well who talk of Kashmir issue “solutions”, some talk of development, while some others just criticize others, etc, however join the hue and cry over the flood response and unemployment of youth, which is very high.

On the other hand, the much loved separatist and revered octogenarian separatist leader SAS Geelani is back with his routine boycott formula and in tune are with him all the separatists who have either been arrested or put under house arrest to avoid any mess during elections.

Amid all this new drama and old boycott gimmick, there are not much takers of Geelani’s agenda especially in the rural landscape of Kashmir where politics of personal affiliation and an idea of a leader ‘being the neighbour’ or a friend or a hero is considered above the K-issue and the boycott agenda itself.

Most of the rural politics in Kashmir is for the first time not based more on the old sentiment in NC support because of the charismatic Sheikh Abdullah factor. Now people understand, more than emotions. Older lot however still favours Sheikh Abdullaha who passed away in 1982 but love to cast their vote on his plough.

I still remember how in the previous assembly elections in Kashmir an old man was taken by a PDP worker to a polling station with all the motivation, support, comfort and clearly instructed about whom to vote but the ailing old man after casting his vote clearly said that he knows just one sign to vote for and that is Sheikh Sahab’s plough (NC sign). The fuming PDP worker left the old man without dropping him home back.

Congress, NC or PDP; support is mostly on the sense of neighbourhood, outreach of local politicians to people in their own areas, regional alliances, etc.

The congress factor is also significant now because of the new era of youth with smart phones who now are much more informed and know the national politics well. Gulam Nabi Azad (mostly named as Azad sahib) is treated as a credible politician throughout the valley for his efficient chief Ministership (November 2, 2008 -July 11, 2008) and developmental vision. Azad is making his all out efforts to ensure congress victory in the state.

Yet, amid this all high drama a sense of disappointment and pessimism continues to haunt the youth psyche.

“There were some subtle expectations from the outgoing government but they failed drastically to solve the Kashmir’s problems and security issues here. Kashmir really had not been benefited by the dynasty politics and moreover if this time people do vote that will not be for resolving K-dispute but for development of Kashmir in terms of economy which no one has so far fulfilled” says a student at Kashmir University.

On the same question, a Kashmiri Sociologist while asking about rural urban voting trends argues, “Rural Kashmir except a few most sensitive regions (like Sopore and some areas of Pulwama) votes more because of expecting more facilities to be provided to them by selecting a particular candidate (not necessarily of a particular party). Since rural people lack the basic amenities of life like sufficient electricity, drinking water, roads, health care access, education, employment, reach to the corridors of power, etc, they whole heartedly participate to select their known candidates. Also at a time when rural people in Kashmir are shifting to other non-agricultural activities to earn their living, voting behaviour though has changed its choices but has not ceased at all. Comparatively in the urban areas people do enjoy almost all basic requirements of life and have options of cash earning activities and many other recreational facilities and that is a nice option to them not to go for voting.”

Studying the elections sociologically in Jammu and Kashmir, one observes the tradition of continuity and change. The politics of vested interests and ideologies, projected leaders and the dynasty rule still prevails and keeps enjoying the support of the masses.
While lamenting at the faded glory of Kashmir, an elderly man feebly narrates about the relation between the elections and onset of violence in Kashmir. He believes that the rigged elections of 1987 actually led to the armed struggle in Kashmir that started in 1989.

He adds, “If we pay a glimpse on the whole history of election pattern and contesting fashion in Kashmir, various painful aspects and agonising viewpoints come to surface. Kashmir Psephology reveals nothing but a prolonged scene of betrayal, a pathetic story of exploitation, marginalization of the particular sections and identities. It aims at exploitation and use of the poor. It means disguised enslavement, family monopoly, predetermined appointments & disappointments, hollow public luring for personal power, vote bank politics, violence for power, plots, corruption, mass embarrassment, general injustice & atrocities on the common man. Who cares”.

A political scientist argues that, “The most interesting facet of Kashmir psephology on one hand is the peoples’ claim for “Azadi” and simultaneously contesting/participating in elections under the same constitution on the other. Sometimes one wonders how this all goes hand in hand and how do the same masses identify with such conflicting ideologies and horrible dichotomies”.

Though they call it change of way and not ideology, however talking of Kashmir elections no doubt is an integral part of the whole political process.

“While politicians also maintain that elections here are for local governance and for Bijli, Paniand Sadak to befool the masses. Actually by participating in this whole process we prove that we are an integral part of India,”says a student of Urdu from Kulgam area.
To most of the youth change at the centre really does not matter but it matters at the state level. They feel whosoever comes, Kashmiri’s alienation and sufferings continue.

A youth from north Kashmir on defining elections says, “To a common Kashmiri, what is an election here now? Another face of corrupt and Delhi sponsored brigade, new power opportunity, yet another visionless governance and youth exploitation. Further another term of moral, social, economic and administrative disorder and rottenness will come into being”.

A university colleague argues, “Elections here to me simply mean rallies and rushes, inconveniencing the public, impressive speeches, a saga of blames and accusations on each other, show of might and rhetoric, inter-party fights and hostilities, conspiracies against each other, political advantage of each other’s lapses, family and traditional authority politics, appointment of some new faces and disappointment of some prior ones, youth enslavement, artificial dreams, hollow promises, use of youth for sloganeering, public gatherings, public luring, fights, vote loot, use of youths for facilitating ‘Jalsaas’ (political gatherings), and blame game on floods, etc.”

People also feel that everything is done for the vote bank in this part of the world.

“Elections no doubt are essential for the maintenance of political structure of the state but the Kashmir political and election studies reveal that it is a imposed thing and not the institutional need. Moreover, we witness the party monopoly both at the centre and state level who mobilize their agents to run the campaigning and voting  process and public hardly gets to decide anything which defeats the actual goal of true elections,”comments  a research scholar from Kashmir University.

Iram Saba, a tutor from Srinagar says, “I will not vote because I have never voted and my family has also not voted. It is almost a taboo here now. Actually no voting has become a culture here that also benefits the politicians. We follow the election boycott. The question also is to vote for whom?”

Last Word

The so called political giants, heavyweights and self made intellectuals and Parties contesting elections in Kashmir lack the very vision on Kashmir. However it remains to be seen whether it will be the success of BJP’s Mission 44+ or the next government will be of PDP and congress coalition or some other combo.

While it is true that there is no Modi wave as BJP has hardly been a significant stakeholder in the valley, the fact remains BJP is displaying its hard work at the ground level and appointing a young brigade of politicians to win Kashmir. The other Parties are not highly liked too for their manifestos, leadership style, governance, etc, by the masses but the heavy voting is expected.

Yes, the people especially rural section of the population show a high participation but only because of their affiliations to politicians based on either knowing the leader personally, neighbourhood issues, concept of Biradari, or to take avenge of the last supported party or candidate or being a worker or simply to get a casual labour job after the leader in the neighbourhood gets elected or become a minister.

Kashmir’s theatre of elections currently plays the drums of autonomy, dual currency, healing touch, AFSPA revocation,Budgam killings row, Pathribal case closure, poll boycott, article 370 support and abrogation slogans, ‘Kashmir will be our priority slogan by BJP’, BJP anchoring roots in Kashmir, Omar’s autonomy and Geelani’s boycott, etc.

The law of situation has changed the sphere of influence and the sphere of obligation and paved the way for a different psephology this time.

Though it is an established fact that Kashmir Psephology is not entirely different from that of the rest of India as electoral process still remains topsy-turvy/sensitive in most parts of the country but at the end of the day one comes to conclude that a lack of developments on the K-issue, lack of peace building, leadership crisis, lack of credible politicians, dearth of young and able politicians, lack of mass friendly ideologies, lack of development and progressive vision, lack of conflict termination, continued violence, HR violation, unaccounted killings, increasing dissent and undying secessionist tendencies, etc, haunt the Kashmir Psephology.

Amid the high drama of elections in the troubled valley, the common man has been left confused, mentally tortured and ideologically starved. With the powerful elite enjoying every bit of it, it is the suffering masses who continue to live under the shadow of hopelessness.

Ahmad Faraz aptly puts it, “Har koi Apni Hawa Main Mast Firta Hai Faraz Sheher-e-NaPursaan Main Teri Chashm-i-Tarr Dekhega Kon”


About the Author

Dr. Adfar Shah
Dr. Adfar Shah
Dr. Adfar Shah, (Adfer Rashid Shah, PhD) is a New Delhi-based (Kashmiri) social analyst and columnist at various reputed international and national media groups. Being an academic he has more than sixty publications besides hundreds of conceptual articles to his credit. He has been writing on South Asia's socio-political realities at Eurasia Review since 2012, where he is Special Correspondent for South Asia Affairs and recently elevated to Associate Editor (English) for South Asia. Reach him at [email protected]

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