Simplistic inferences won’t help
The very low voter turnout during the just concluded Lok Sabha elections in Kashmir may not have surprised any – for the political realists had anticipated it to be so. As always the separatists had also 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. But the low voter turnout cannot be attributed only to their boycott call. Doing so would be like over-simplifying. Besides in that case, someone should also try and explain people’s enthusiasm to cast votes in certain areas. Obviously this 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 or otherwise? Is it an attestation of what New Delhi and its media wants us to believe – “a big no to separatist politics in Kashmir” or what the separatist would like it to be “a big endorsement of their politics”?
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 separatists seem to be comfortable with, and want 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, 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, or their boycott is in elections is in no way ratification or otherwise of the simplistic inferences deduced by varied actors as per their own conveniences.
“If people are organized with a dream of future ahead of them, the actual planning that takes place in organizing and the hopes and the fears for the future give them just as much inner satisfaction as does their actual achievement.” This is something that the elections do, and which, how-so-much one may disagree, the politics of election boycotts has neither aimed to achieve, nor has been able to reach. The kind of participation that elections provide, right from planning, getting together to campaign for or against any candidate, and then fighting together to make someone win or loose an election, completely changes the average Kashmiri, who until the elections so aimlessly treads the “dull, gray, monotonous road of existence”.
Elections are basically about people’s participation – they are about working by and with the people, even if in the kind of politics that is practiced here, it is, unfortunately, not always about working for them. Elections, though very briefly, break down the feeling of the people about them being social automations with no stake in the future. It rather makes them feel like “human beings in possession of all the responsibility, strength, and human dignity which constitute the heritage of free citizens of a democracy.”