The foyer of the Shopian Degree College was crowded with large knots of students, while it rained outside. A few days ago, a crowd of about a dozen students animatedly related how they had tried to prevent the police from taking one of their classmates into custody the previous evening.
The next day, two college teachers at Damal Hajipora spoke worriedly of safety concerns during the election duty for which they have been told to report. A knot of students further down that road in Damal Hajipora also spoke of a complete election boycott in their town.
This is significant in light of the general expectation in the corridors of power that there would be a turnout for elections in the wooded belt around Damal Hajipora near the edge of the Valley. Boycotts have traditionally had little impact here. But things may have changed in several such outlying places since last year. Damal Hajipora is, after all, the town at the western edge of Kulgam district where the police post was burnt to the ground on the day after militant commander Burhan Wani was killed in July last.
The resolve for a complete boycott that one finds in Bogam at the other end of Kulgam district is more predictable. It is after all the village that claimed the body of Pakistani militant, Abu Qasim, for burial. The place is a stronghold of Jamaat-e-Islami, and images of the Pakistan flag are painted all over its walls. At Newa in the north of Pulwama district, not only was a boycott taken for granted, talk of the likelihood of violence around the elections too was readily at hand.
One has come across talk of young men and boys being locked up by the police in many parts of south Kashmir over the past few days. A large number of `stone-pelters’ have been detained, as the government prepares to conduct a very challenging round of byelections for two Lok Sabha seats — the Anantnag and Srinagar seats in Parliament.
According to one report, the detentions are part of a devious plot: the boys are released in exchange for a promise from a politician that they will vote. Given the mood of fearless defiance among a large number of youths in south Kashmir, such a strategy would be likely to boomerang.
Yet, there could be something to such reports. For, young people in Bogam talk of their perplexity over the fact that someone accused of not just pelting stones but of snatching a weapon was released a few days ago — just when large numbers of boys were being detained.
Amid a boycott call from the Hurriyat leadership, threats of violence and retribution against voters from militants, and widespread disgust with the entire process of 'mainstream politics,’ the government has been trying to guard against stones disrupting the elections.
As usual, the government has been barking up the wrong tree. All across the most disturbed parts of south Kashmir, people generally spoke of the likelihood of violence against polling centres and the other systems involved in the conduct of elections.
Those predictions were borne out by the arson attack against a school that was to be a polling centre in Yarigund village near Kawoosa at the northern edge of the Srinagar parliamentary constituency on Friday evening. No doubt the police and other security forces were guarding against this sort of attack too, but rounding up boys in various places was a waste of the limited resources at the command of the state.
Not only that, it alienated large sections of potential voters, who argue that these boys are being detained for no reason. No specific threat of stone-pelting has been made. Rounding up potential pelters of stones has only added to the already strong resentment against the elections - and hence the likelihood of a major boycott.
The whole point of any election process should have been to draw young citizens towards democratic processes, and thus away from violence and other kinds of demonstrations of anger. Most of those detained would have been eligible to exercise their right to vote for the first time. Instead of drawing them towards democratic processes, these detentions have added substantially to existing anger - and the success of the boycott.
Talk of violence
Senior army and police officers say they have been aware that the by-election are likely to be the target of terrorist violence. Conversations in towns and villages across south Kashmir make it clear that this is a common expectation among a lot of people.
Indeed, some people hold that this round of violence would kick off a prolonged round of violence in the Valley. If that is true, the heavy rain, snowfall, and threat of floods would be a boon for the rulers; it is sure to dampen the plans for violence.
Updated Date: Apr 08, 2017 09:28 AM