Simplistic inferences lead to wrong conclusions
The “successful” conduct of recently held urban local body and panchayat elections has once again surprised many – though political realists had anticipated it to be so. Given that the separatists had called for boycott and their calls were endorsed by a wider cross-section, including the vocal civil society actors who make it to media through opinion pieces, a good number of people still choosing to vote poses many more questions than most people would like to engage with, and answer. How do we look at these elections, at least in terms of people’s participation? Is it an attestation of what New Delhi and its media wants us to believe they are – “a big no to separatist politics in Kashmir”? Does it signal people’s departure from the sentiment; “betrayal with the sacrifices” of past nearly three decades, as some pro-boycott lobbyists frame it?
Actually it is neither. People have not abandoned the “sentiment” by participating in the elections, nor are they trying to put a seal of approval on the political status quo that Delhi feels comfortable with, and wants to perpetuate here. Indeed both streams of opinion – those who think in ‘either-or’ terms vis-a-vis people’s participation or otherwise in the elections make a mortal mistake of over-simplifying it!
People are certainly not happy with the separatists -- for their failure in evolving with a viable road-map for taking, in their own words, the “movement to the logical conclusion”. They are also not happy with the political mainstream – for their gross contradictions -- in belief and deed -- in and out of power; as well as for their machinations which have cost state its special status and precious resources, and steadily disenfranchised its people. They are, at the same time, not comfortable with the continued status quo via-a-vis the disputed nature of Kashmir, as also with a multitude of other minute rows and clashes that make Kashmir one of the most protracted and complex conflicts – at least at two different levels – between India and Pakistan, and between Srinagar and New Delhi – if only other intra-state dimensions are overlooked for the time being. So people’s participation is in no way ratification or otherwise of the simplistic inferences deduced by varied actors as per their own conveniences.
Then how does one explain people’s participation, whatever little the percentage was in the Valley? Among other things, it is also a vivid demonstration of emotional starvation of people for a place in Kashmir, and its politics. It is their urge for participation in the politics concerning them – howsoever minimal the electoral democracy may offer them. It is a statement that “we the people” also matter; and that “those who get to rule us do in some measure require our support and endorsement.” It is a loud expression that people want empowerment. Elections do empower them -- though briefly and with all its inherent faults – so much so that people can influence who gets to represent and rule them. All said and done, the separatist politics has failed in giving this ‘ownership’ to the people, even though ideally speaking, it should have given people far more space than what the electoral democracy of mainstream politics allows and accords them.