JAMMU: Every election in Jammu and Kashmir has been superimposed by boycott calls by the separatists ever-since the inception of militancy in early nineties. Starting from 1996 when the first popular government was elected to power after a gap of six years, the separatists had warned people against casting their votes. Despite intimidation, the people of Kashmir side-stepped separatists and came out to elect the popular government of their choice.
Compared to urban areas in the Valley, the rural Kashmir always remained in the forefront and elected their public representatives. At the end of six-year rule of National Conference in 2002, Kashmir had seen birth of its second regional political outfit in the form of Peoples Democratic Party.
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government had played crucial role in improving the dented image of the Election Commission of India. By holding free and fair polls in 2002, the Centre had won hearts and minds of people.
The credibility of BJP led NDA government had empowered the common Kashmiris, who dethroned National Conference. Instead of playing spoil-sport or manipulating the verdict, the Centre had played impartial role and allowed both Congress and Peoples Democratic Party to come together and form an alliance government on the basis of Common Minimum Programme.
As Mufti Mohammed Sayeed took charge of office, optimism took centre-stage in Kashmir. Separatists were given space on the dialogue table and as shrewd bridge player Mufti brokered peace deal with the disgruntled elements paving way for most peaceful years. His dream run was abruptly cut short by the Congress led UPA government after BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee was voted out of power in 2004.
Mufti was replaced by Ghulam Nabi Azad as the Chief Minister. Congress tried to establish upper hand in the State politics trying to consolidate its grip over Jammu region to stitch a permanent alliance with a Kashmir based political party in rotation in order to remain in power.
But PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti spoiled Azad’s party by pulling the plug before time over Amarnath land row. Azad had to go before end of his term. After a brief period of Governor’s rule, the Assembly polls were held and a large pecentage of electorate took part in the entire poll process and elected another alliance government.
This time Dr Abdullah’s son Omar Abdullah became youngest Chief Minister of the State. He brought new vision and energy with him but that too was short-lived.
Omar’s tenure saw bloodiest unrest in Kashmir Valley in 2010, as street violence spiralled out of hands triggering fresh phase of uprising as New Delhi failed to control the situation by not reaching out to the alienated populace.
At the end of his tenure in 2014, Omar Abdullah’s National Conference finished third.
He had to give in. For the first time, the BJP won majority of seats in Jammu region and PDP won popular vote in the Valley. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma worked wonders for BJP in the Jammu region while PDP won popular vote on the promise of blocking and stopping BJP from coming to power. Due to fractured mandate, the adversaries during the elections, the BJP-PDP leadership came closer and joined hands after drafting Agenda of Alliance. From day one, Kashmir was not happy with the marriage between the two divergent partners yet Mufti Sayeed’s stature silenced odd noises. But after Mufti’s departure, his daughter and PDP Chief Mehbooba Mufti took over but she could not convince Kashmiri voters what she was going to gain by aligning with BJP.
As alienation among Kashmiris grew faster, sudden turn of events including killing of Hizbul terrorist Burhan Wani brought situation to point of no return and the State once again paid a heavy price of loosing around 80 lives besides injuries to several thousand security personnel and protesters in the street protests. The atmosphere in Kashmir was anything but normal.
And in this choked atmosphere, announcement to conduct polls raised many eyebrows. Lots of apprehensions were expressed by security experts as also the Kashmir watchers who kept close watch over the disturbing developments taking place across the Valley.
All these apprehensions proved right on Sunday when little over seven percent voters stepped out to vote while majority of them stayed away. This, of course, send alarming bells to New Delhi, especially as the low percentage is being seen as lowest ever in the past five decades.
The Centre had a reason to feel embarrassed while the separatists are bragging success of their boycott calls. The reasons for low poll percentage, however, are many. Whatever these might be, the truth of today’s Kashmir is that the peace inimical elements stand emboldened. They got further boost with the deferment of bypolls to Anantnag Parliamentary Constituency.
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© 2016 State Times Daily Newspaper