Srinagar Lok Sabha election result of April 2017 is a stark reminder of 1989 developments in J&K

The Srinagar Lok Sabha election result, at the first glance, seems to be a travesty of the core principle of democracy that stands for the majority (50 percent) rule. We have conveniently adopted a first-past-the-post mechanism in our electoral system that casts the 50 percent rule aside and certifies any percentage of votes justified to win an election or a seat.

Farooq Abdullah won the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat on Saturday by securing just 48,544 votes which is even less than the number of votes an average candidate has to secure to win an assembly seat in any of the mainstream state elections. This is not surprising given the fact that on 9 April, the day of the election, just about 7 percent voters had cast their vote. What is worse, in the re-polling done in the 38 booths on 13 April, only 2 percent voters turned up to vote (702 out of 35,169 people voted that day).

The dismal turnout could be because of the tense environment persisting in Srinagar and surrounding areas on account of the pitched battle between stone-pelting Kashmiri youth and gun-toting security forces for last several months. The militant separatists’ election boycott call clearly played a role in the poor turnout.

As a matter of fact, the re-poll was ordered in several areas of Budgam district after the protesters barged into several polling stations there, took away electronic voting machines (EVMs) and indulged in large-scale vandalism. The security forces fired upon the protesters killing 8 and injuring several others.

File image of Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah. PTI

File image of Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah. PTI

Despite the protests and deaths, 9 April recorded over 7 percent turnout which was in itself dismal, but Srinagar had seen worse. During the April 13 re-poll, election process went off smoothly without any untoward incident, however very few voters turned up at the fortress-like polling booths (just about 2 percent).

This is a new low in the voting percentage in Kashmir valley where the electoral turnout has been traditionally less than the national average, both in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections. It is also true that Kashmiris have generally shown a relatively lukewarm response to the Lok Sabha elections compared to the Assembly elections (in 2014 more than 65 per cent voters had turned out for assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, though the Lok Sabha election of 2014 registered about 50 percent vote in the state)

However, there are several assembly constituencies which have been traditionally showing a poor turnout. For example, in the 2002 assembly election, the average polling percentage in the state of Jammu and Kashmir was 43.7 per cent — which was the second worst in the history of Jammu and Kashmir, the poorest turnout was in 1962 with its 40.3 percent polling — but six constituencies had recorded the voting percentage of less than 5 percent.

In Amira Kadal constituency, in the heart of the Srinagar city, for example, out of the 74,442 voters registered there, only 2280 cast their vote and Congress won the seat that year by securing 1163 votes, just about 1.5 percent of total eligible voters. In the same election, the NC leader, who later went on to become the Speaker of the assembly, Mubarak Gul, won the Idgah seat by securing 2,026 votes. Even Mehbooba Mufti, current president of the PDP and chief minister, had won the Anantnag seat in 2002 assembly elections with just 3513 votes.

In 2008, senior NC leader, who went on to become the home minister in the Omar Abdullah government, won his seat by securing 3912 votes. Farooq Abdullah had then managed a respectable 7018 votes in Sonwar constituency in Srinagar that year.

Overall, the Lok Sabha elections have been a lesser draw for the Jammu and Kashmir voters. In the worst ever voter turnout in 1989 Lok Sabha elections, the Sringar and Anantnag seats had registered just about 5 percent of polling. So the current turnout level is not something unprecedented. But it comes as a terrible letdown that such dismal polling comes just about three years after the general elections when Anantnag had recorded a respectable (by Kashmir standards) 28.84 percent and Srinagar 25.56 percent.

Many would attribute it to the vitiated environment in the Kashmir valley. A similar scenario had played out two years after the 1987 assembly elections which, for the record, registered almost 75 per cent votes (the biggest ever tally in Jammu and Kashmir) but in popular perception, the election was largely rigged with the collusion of the Congress and National conference pitted against the Muslim United Front (MUF), protagonists of Kashmir autonomy. The NC-Congress coalition won 66 out of the 76 seats and the BJP two seats. Independents, some of whom contested under the MUF platform, won just 8 seats.

Jayaprakash Narayan, the socialist leader, had even questioned the fairness of the 1957 and 1962 elections, held after the imprisonment of Sheikh Abdullah, the founder of the National Conference. But the 1987 elections had clearly destroyed the credibility of the democratic process in the Kashmir valley.

The Congress-NC coalition then won and Farooq Abdullah became the chief minister, but the disenchantment of the Kashmiri voter with the brazen manipulation of the democratic process gave birth to the Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant movement for Kashmir’s independence. Kashmir valley went so much out of control that Farooq Abdullah subsequently resigned and the state was brought under the governor’s rule. The 1989 Lok Sabha election showed this disillusionment with the worst ever electoral turnout.

A similar situation seems to be prevailing today. Kashmir valley has erupted into a vicious cycle of militant insurgency and counter-attack by the security forces since the killing of Burhan Wani, the young commander of the separatist Hizbul Mujahideen in July last year. The disenchantment has gone so deep that the vast majority of the voters are either afraid of, or disinclined to, take part in the democratic process.

Will this situation lead to Mehbooba Mufti’s resignation and the imposition of the governor’s rule? That would, to a large extent, depend as to how long the PDP leaders and supporters are ready to suffer the opprobrium of aligning with the BJP, which is largely perceived as a Hindu nationalist party in the Kashmir valley.

What is interesting is that mainstream political parties of the Kashmir valley have been swapping their positions vis-à-vis the militants. When National Conference ruled, in alliance with the Congress, Mehbooba’s PDP took a political position strikingly similar to the separatists. When the tables have turned and the PDP is in power, the National Conference is taking a stance largely indistinguishable from the militants.

The political opportunism of the PDP and NC has added to the complex web of events that have contributed to Kashmir to be in the news for all the wrong reasons.

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Updated Date: Apr 16, 2017 09:28:58 IST

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