Postponing Kashmir's Anantnag bypoll is a good idea, going ahead would have risked a bloodbath

The decision to postpone the by-election for the Anantnag seat is welcome. After the violence that accompanied the by-election for the Srinagar seat on Sunday, going ahead with Wednesday’s slated bypoll would have been bull-headed foolishness. Elections are meant to include people in the processes of governance, not for piling up bodies.

Youths throw stones on Security forces during clashes in Srinagar on Sunday. PTI

Youths throw stones on Security forces during clashes in Srinagar on Sunday. PTI

The government and the Election Commission must continue to consider carefully whether it is even worth going ahead with the bypoll in May, to when it has been postponed.

A blinkered insistence on conducting an election when public rage is so high that multiple deaths are certain would be no less than the death of democratic process: The assertion of state power. As things stand, it would be likely to invite a higher death toll than the eight lives that were lost on Sunday.

It could be a bloodbath. Casualties could include polling officers and support staff, apart from security forces. There are estimated to be a couple of hundred militants in south Kashmir—and much greater enthusiasm for pelting stones and risking death than elsewhere in the Valley—in this light, it would be inexcusable to risk the lives of polling officers, most of whom are teachers.

Democratic processes are, after all, about ascertaining the will of the people. And the people of Kashmir have made it clear that a very large proportion of them do not want these elections.

Nullify Srinagar election

In fact, the by-election for the Srinagar seat should also be declared void. The sanctity of the process has been vitiated, since a number of electronic voting machines were broken by agitators during and after polling on Sunday.

Two schools and a panchayat ghar, all of which were to be polling booths, were burnt in south Kashmir on Sunday night and Monday. In fact, Repolling at some booths in the Srinagar constituency on Thursday too is a bad idea. There could be more violence.

It is ironic that the people rejected not only the process of elections — and, through that, the State — they also rejected the populist rhetoric of National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah. Over the past couple of months, Abdullah had tried to curry favour with voters by backing militants and stone-pelters.

The vigorous resistance against the election process through which he was certain to become a member of the Lok Sabha was, at one level, a slap from those he evidently thought he could sweet-talk into endorsing him.

In fact, the boycott and the attacks against the election process have clearly shown what people by and large think of the gamut of politicians in Kashmir. They think of them as a power-hungry bunch of liars, full of the sort of doublespeak and false promises that Abdullah’s recent utterances represented.

Too clever by half

What happened on Sunday is also a slap for Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. She cocked a snook at the spirit of democracy by resigning from the Lok Sabha some months after taking over as CM. She only resigned just before she took the oath as a member of the Assembly.

The acceptance of the resignation of Tariq Hamid Karra when he resigned the Srinagar seat last autumn was also delayed for a few weeks for technical reasons.

The rules allowed all this but if those in power thought that delaying the resultant by-elections would help them avoid violence and a boycott, Sunday’s response has shown that it is more sensible to uphold the spirit of democracy. That is far more vital than going through the formalities for form’s sake.

Clearly, neither the chief minister nor her advisors, nor even the intelligence agencies, realised last summer and autumn that what emerged after militant commander Burhan Wani’s death was only one act of a long tragedy that was going to play out this year too. The uprising was not 'over' last October.

Avoid propaganda

Those who treated the Assembly elections of 2008 and other rounds of elections in Jammu and Kashmir as opportunities to show the world that Kashmiris had accepted the status quo have also had a comeuppance. Propaganda successes can only be ephemeral. The compromises that were made throughout 2008 on various sides of the political spectrum will cost the country very dear for a long time.

We would not have reached this level of alienation and rejection if the establishment had at that time given primacy to people’s aspirations: An end to corruption and repression, dignity, efficient and responsive governance, employment, justice, grassroots democratisation, and the right to information.

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Updated Date: Apr 12, 2017 08:14:12 IST

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