J&K: sham polls make things worse

Jammu and Kashmir had a strange and farcical municipal council election in the past few weeks which showed the voters’ distrust in the elections rather than their faith in them. In the four-round elections, the BJP won 212 of the 520 urban local body seats in Jammu and the Congress emerged as the largest party with 157 of the 624 seats in the Valley. The Congress also won 13 of the 26 seats in Ladakh. The BJP won 53 of the 152 wards in militancy-hit South Kashmir. But these figures do not mean anything when the voter turnout and the way the elections were held are considered. The Valley saw only 4.27% polling and the overall turnout in the state was only 35%. The extremely low polling in the Valley meant a rejection of the elections, if anything. 

Most voters in the Valley were not only uninterested in the elections but hostile to them. A large number of seats were uncontested and in many others there was only one candidate. Both the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC) boycotted the elections in protest against the Centre’s dubious position on the legal challenge in the Supreme Court to Article 35A of the Constitution which gives special rights to the people of the state. But their participation may not have made much difference. The names of the candidates in the fray were not made public on security considerations. The voters came to know about the candidate only when they went to the booth. The candidates were cooped up in a place and given protection because some of them suspected that their names had been leaked. 

Such a low voter turnout has not been seen in Kashmir in the past. The argument that the voters stayed away because the local parties did not participate and the militants made a boycott call only shows that the people did not consider it necessary or important to vote. People have defied separatists’ calls in the past, to vote in elections. The Modi government has not pursued a policy that gives importance to political outreach, human rights and other concerns of the people, like the state’s special status, but has adopted a security-oriented strategy in Kashmir. The BJP withdrew from its coalition government with the PDP. No-one knows what the Centre’s interlocutor, Dineshwar Sharma, is doing in the state. Elections have no meaning when the people do not feel engaged and involved in the issues, institutions and processes of democracy. The situation in Kashmir has been set back by many years, and sham elections can only make it worse. 

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J&K: sham polls make things worse

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