Alienation behind low Valley polling

An elderly voter puts her thumb impression before casting her vote at a polling station during the third phase of Lok Sabha elections, in Anantnag on April 23, 2019. PTI

The voter turnout in the fifth and final phase of polling in the Kashmir Valley has not improved from the dismal levels seen in the earlier phases, but has actually dipped lower than in the past. The turnout was very poor in all the three Lok Sabha constituencies of Srinagar, Baramulla and Anantnag. There was also violence in Anantnag. Anantnag is among the areas worst affected by militancy and the three phases of polling in the constituency together saw only an 8.8% turnout compared to about 28% in 2014. In Pulwama and Shopian districts, the turnout was just 2.8%. Not a single vote was cast in 200 polling booths in these districts. Polling was better in Srinagar and Baramulla which saw 14% and 35% turnout, though some booths saw no polling at all. Polling in these two constituencies was also much lower than the turnout seen there in the last Lok Sabha election. There are even charges that the actual voter turnout is lower than what the official figures show. 

The contrast with the other regions of the state — Jammu and Ladakh — which posted high polling percentages, is very clear. The steep fall in voter turnout in the Valley from the 2014 levels shows the distance the Valley has traversed in the past five years and the stark difference in the atmosphere and mood of the people now. Even in the best of times voter turnout was not very high in Kashmir. The extremely low turnout now is not just a mark of voter apathy but of hostility, and may even be seen as a rejection of the exercise as such. The separatists had issued a call to the people to boycott the elections, as they have done the past. More people seem to have heeded the call this time. 

Parties in the Valley have blamed logistical reasons for the poor turnout. Many polling booths were clubbed together for reasons of security and so many voters had to walk long distances to vote. But this cannot account for the very low turnout. The Narendra Modi government’s strong arm policies in Kashmir in the last five years have alienated the people of the state. There is disillusionment with the democratic process and the Indian state. This has increased after the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani in 2016, the popular protests that followed it and the clamp down of the state on them. The people have felt more and more alienated from the mainstream. If the state does not respect the democratic rights of the people and does not offer politics to them, they will not care for the processes of democracy.   

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