Farcical bypoll, growing divide in J&K

Dr Farooq Abdullah, who has been declared elected from the Srinagar constituency where a by-election was held last week, has no reason to be happy about his victory. His victory is only technical because an overwhelming majority of the voters of the constituency boycotted the election and thus, in effect, rejected his candidature. Only 7% of the electorate voted in the election held on April 9 and a meagre 2% voted in the repolling held in 38 booths on Thursday. The election was marred by large-scale violence in which eight people were killed and many others injured. Booths were set on fire, polling materials and voting machines were damaged, staff and security personnel were attacked and the polling process was badly disrupted all over the constituency. A repolling in some booths did not make sense in such circumstances and it is proved by the fact only 709 persons turned out to vote out of over 34,000 voters.

Low voter turnout is usually an adverse comment on the party or the candidate in the fray. But a ridiculously low turnout as in Srinagar is an adverse comment on the election as such, a vote against vote, and it robs the victory of any candidate in such a flawed election of all legitimacy. The boycott has to be seen in the context of the protests, violence and other forms of disenchantment of the people, especially after the killing of Burhan Wani by the security forces in July last year.

The participation of voters in elections in Kashmir has often been cited as evidence of the faith of the people of the state in democratic institutions and in the democratic process and a rejection of those who call for boycotts. The abysmally low turnout in Srinagar weakens that argument.

Another by-election that was to be held in Anantnag has been postponed to May 25 on the request of the candidate of the PDP, which is part of the state’s ruling coalition, and the state government, on the ground that circumstances are not favourable for the election now. It is difficult to understand why a farcical exercise was held in Srinagar. However, what is more important is whether the meaning and message of the voter behaviour will reach the governments in the state and the Centre. There is a disconnect between the people and the government and this has grown in the past one year. This has to be addressed by reaching out to the people and holding conversations with them. Farcical elections do not help, and security actions and a law and order approach would worsen the situation.

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