India after independence opted democratic form of government, to empower people’s participation in electing their representatives by taking part in the election process. The only eligibility besides being a citizen of the country is the age of the voter that earlier was reduced from 21 to 18 years. Any person of 18 years of age is deemed fit to vote. Education, rational-choice, and wise decision hardly matter in Indian democracy. The electorates in India rarely exercise their rational choice or the background analysis of the candidate contesting the election. The people are merely aware of their basic political rights let alone the political power that constitution provides them; votes are merely their sentiments, emotions, religious or caste affiliations that people in power often misuse to instigate communal or caste-based violence among communities for political gains. In the largest democracy, every year people die in communal or caste violence, minority’s sense insecurity in the largest democracy.
As India celebrates its 17th general election with a population of 1.3 billion people, of which around 900 million are exercising their voting rights. The voter turnout varies from constituency to constituency. Generally, the average turnout in general election is between 60 to 80 percent. However, the state of J&K, which is a conflict zone, has a different story to narrate. The elections in J&K are going at a time when Kashmir is witnessing a surge in militant and political activities. People of the valley showed less interest in the elections as the voter turnout remained very low so far. Some people are of the opinion that elections in Kashmir are held to present a modest picture to the global community, that Kashmir is as normal as any other state of the country. Through elections, the policy makers are trying to show that the conflict of Kashmir can be solved through electoral process only and there is no place for ‘the out of box’ political solutions.
As elections are going on, people are exercising their voting rights; the elections in Kashmir are making headlines. Participation of people is almost negligible. The participation by the people in the ongoing election process in the Kashmir valley is a cause of grave concern for Delhi. Voter turnout in Anantnag was just 13.6%; participation in Srinagar constituency has been worrying as only 14% of registered voters exercised their franchise. Reports say polling officials at around fifty pooling booths in Srinagar wrapped empty box as not a single voter turned up. Turnout in some constituencies did not even reach to double digits. In Bijbehara, the hometown of PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti saw only 2% turnout. Voting for the second phase in Anantnag district seat ended with only 10% voters coming out to vote. The turnout in Shopian and Pulwama; the epicentre of Kashmiris new age militancy was only 2.8%, one of the lowest in Kashmir’s electoral history. The Kashmiris are angry, disappointed, furious and outraged after Sweeping crackdown on mainstream political and religious activists. These dismal figures have a message, a message that needs serious introspection.
For the last seven decades, Kashmir conflict remains unsolved. By holding periodic elections, the policy makers want to ‘buy time and forget’ this long pending dispute.
The Indian leadership needs to understand that Kashmir is going through a serious crisis; there is a problem in Kashmir which requires a pragmatic, reliable and immediate political solution. It is a political problem which needs a political and a non-military solution. The present Indian establishment should revisit its own colonial history, and understand the political dimensions of the conflict. America is the living example that India can take lessons from. America the most powerful country after spending so much money, all kinds of weapons and force, has accepted a humiliating defeat in Afghanistan. History is witness to the fact that the aspirations, demands, dignity, and pride of the people cannot be snatched by force.
The dispute of Kashmir needs political will and a result-oriented dialogue that can fulfil the wishes, and aspirations of the people. Ironically, during elections in Kashmir, all the communication channels are snapped, and vehicle movement is restricted. Also train services are stopped giving people a sense of fear psychosis. These gags are an insult to the institution of democracy. For India, elections indicate many things but the scale of less voter turnout demonstrates the lacunas of the Indian democracy in Kashmir.
(Author is International Studies Student)