Representational image. | Image Courtesy: Scroll.in
As millions of people across India vote to elect the government of the largest democracy in the world, residents of restive Kashmir, especially South Kashmir, are paying a heavy price. According to reports, as many as 200 youths have been detained in the past three days from South Kashmir in the run-up to the last phase of elections in the Anantnag parliamentary constituency.
The crackdown and the nocturnal raids have been termed by the officials as “purely precautionary measures” so as to “ensure free and fair polls in South Kashmir”. In a statement, Director General of Police, Dilbagh Singh, said, “These are nothing but temporary measures to keep security situation in control during the elections. Those who have history and are involved in law and order cases have been taken into preventive detention.”
However, these crackdowns and nocturnal raids have agitated the locals to an extent that even the willing voters have now refrained from casting their votes. Voters say that these human rights violations and atrocities are the primary reason forcing them to boycott the elections.
At Newa village of Pulwama district, Mushtaq Ahmed said that his 15-year-old son, Sahil Ahmed, was picked up two days ago at 3 am. Speaking to NewsClick, Mushtaq said, “They [security forces] picked my son and said that they will release him after elections. He was never involved in stone-pelting or any other protest. He studies at a higher secondary school nearby. We all are frightened by this episode and we don't know whether they will release our son or not. You never know. When we asked them the reason behind the detention, they didn’t respond, and went away. This is Gunda raj (reign of terror).”
When asked whether they will vote in the upcoming phase, Ahmed said, “Do you think I am going to vote after this? Not at all. This arrest will inflict mental pain on my kid and it’s not just me. In our village, five-six other boys have been detained in such nocturnal raids conducted by the security forces.”
A woman from Muran village, Pulwama said, “I am never going to vote. Such crackdowns have instilled huge fear among us. We are afraid of sleeping at night. You never know when they will barge into your house, and will pick you up. This is simply atrocious.”
A man in his late 20s residing in Pulwama told NewsClick, "We switch off the lights at 10 pm. We don't dare to switch on the lights even if it's urgent, as there is a strict vigil and we don't want to attract any problem. If elections are going to isolate us even more, why should we vote? Can you give me a single reason?"
Conducting elections in Anantnag constituency, which is a hotbed of militancy and encounters, is a litmus test for the regional political parties – People Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC) as well as the Centre. Due to prevailing situation, the government has failed to conduct byelections in Anantnag parliamentary seat after Mehbooba Mufti became the chief minister in 2016. The four districts of South Kashmir – Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian – were once the bastion of the PDP which had emerged as a regional alternative in 1999 to NC.
PDP's former president late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had gauged the local mood and had pitched the idea of "self-rule" within the ambit of the Indian Constitution. But the party's fate changed gradually after it joined hands with BJP in 2014 which was followed by mass protests in 2016 after the killing of local militant and Hizbul Commander Burhan Wani. Currently, PDP is struggling to revive its vote base in South Kashmir while National Conference (NC) is trying hard to acquire the PDP voter base.
Speaking to NewsClick, professor and political analyst, Noor Baba said, "PDP has lost its stronghold in Kashmir, and it has helped National Conference. There is some scope for Congress in a few pockets. But if you see overall, the participation has gone down except for in a few pockets. This should be seen against the backdrop of what has transpired in the last four-five years. BJP-PDP alliance was not popular. The alliance failed to achieve what it wanted to. Violence has gone up. Militancy has increased. And then these nocturnal raids are responsible for more alienation and less participation in South Kashmir."
The state of Jammu and Kashmir will witness last leg of polling for the Anantnag parliamentary constituency and Ladakh Lok Sabha constituency on May 6. Voting for the Lok Sabha elections took place in five phases, while polling was conducted in Anantnag constituency in three phases. The voter turnout was an abysmal 12% in the last two phases.
The last phase of the election in the state will cover Pulwama and Shopian regions.
Also read: Kashmir: Tracing the Degeneration of Mainstream Politics