Election boycott has been in vogue in Kashmir for a pretty long time. In the past, there have been occasions when the boycott was quite effective and sometimes almost total. All the parties leading Kashmir’s popular movement have been giving calls for boycotting the elections under the Indian Constitution. In spite of such calls, on some occasions, people in large numbers have come out to vote while as at some other times there has been almost total boycott. The plea of the people giving calls for boycott has been that these elections are used for propaganda by the Indian Government to show to the world that the majority of Kashmiris respect and favour Indian Constitution and are with India. It is only a minority instigated by Pakistan which is against the association of Kashmir with India. It is also alleged that on many an occasion, people have been forced to come out for voting and allegedly sometimes the security forces have been used for this purpose which action has been described as “escorting” the voters for voting! No such report was made this time.
During the last election when a considerable number of people came out for voting, the general impression given by the mainstream political parties was that these elections are only for good governance.It was emphasized by one and all that these are not going to affect the overall political problem regarding the final solution to the future dispensation of Kashmir. The most common slogan was that the elections are for “Bijli, Panni, aur Saddak!” (Power, Water, and Roads!”) People really believed in this gimmickry of the mainstream political parties. However, even though the people overlooked their long term aspirations and ambitions of total emancipation to get some sort of effective and good governance, they were completely disappointed and disgusted by the results of last five years. Had there been good governance, people might have thought of coming out to vote to at least improve their living conditions. Such a possibility seems remote in view of the most corrupt political and administrative set up patronised by Delhi all the time in Kashmir. The people in general and the youth in particular seem to be convinced that these elections will neither help in improving the living conditions nor will these lead to a political solution.
However, the most marked difference in the previous boycotts and the present one is the vehemence with which the youth have been enforcing the boycott. In both the phases of the election held so far there was not only violence including attacks on the polling booths and the polling staff but there were also clashes between the youth and the police. The youth seemed bent upon preventing polling in many places. Earlier boycotts were demonstrative of the lack of faith the people had in the process and they used to very quietly stay away. However, this time there was resistance in allowing the voting to take place. People were being forcibly prevented from voting by the restive youth. Even if the government figures of about 27% polling are taken to be correct, what were the other 73% of the people thinking about the whole process? Sham elections for propaganda only! What do they really want? As reported by some journalists the reasons given by the youth for the boycott reveal that they have no faith in the elections under Indian supervision. The youth have stated that they cannot forget their brethren martyred in previous years. They want final solution of the basic political problem rather than improvement in living conditions and the development!
The violence and resistance still took place in spite of the arrest of almost 600 to 1000 young men in the valley and detaining and house arresting almost all the “Azadi” leaders. This effective enforced boycott must have given a positive feeling of achievement to the youth and there may be much more serious trouble during the assembly elections in November next. The killing of the youth in firing at the close of the election in Srinagar and the subsequent imposition of curfew indicate the possible violence in future elections. There seems to be a major change in perception about the elections. Instead of an exercise to elect the same coterie of mainstream leaders usually boycotted quietly by the people it is turning into another avenue of resistance. This clearly shows the extent of alienation as well as the impatience of the youth in getting the basic problem resolved at the earliest. Thus the present election has seen much more than a simple boycott. A grim warning to all concerned interested in getting the basic political problem resolved peacefully that the time is running out and we may soon face an eruption more virulent than the earlier ones!