7% Voter Turnout In Srinagar Shows That Kashmiris Have Hit Their Tipping Point

Posted by India Ink in Kashmir
April 19, 2017

By Omar Kanjwal:

The past two weeks in the Kashmir Valley have been anything but uneventful. There was a record low turnout rate of 7% for the by-poll elections in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency and nine Kashmiris were shot dead. The voter turnout was a message to the Indian government that the people of Kashmir will wholeheartedly reject the electoral process so long as they remain under their control.

Disaffection for the Indian democratic process in Kashmir did not occur overnight. It has been the culmination of decades of political missteps and failed policies that have violated both basic democratic principles and international law. From the alleged election-rigging in 1987 to the alleged mass rapes and killings conducted by the Army officials, this has been a gradual process that has steadily pushed Kashmiris to the limits of what they can bear.

The events of last summer and now this past week indicate that Kashmiris have hit their tipping point. With the death of Burhan Wani, a figure cherished by many throughout the Valley, Kashmiris are now beginning to indicate that enough is enough. If the massive protests over the past summer, mourning the death of one considered to be a ‘terrorist’ by the Indian people was not clear enough, perhaps a 7% voter turnout in Srinagar district is.

Kashmiris have historically voted in the Indian elections for issues of basic governance such as road upkeep, employment, and welfare. The poor turnout for by poll elections this cycle suggests that Kashmiris are now willing to sacrifice these essential goods for the sake of their freedom.

Further, it is clear that Kashmiris have given up on pro-India political parties like the People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference. Mehbooba Mufti’s tenure as the chief minister of the state has been a complete and utter disaster from the moment it began.

Omar Abdullah likewise has little political saliency in the region after his similarly disastrous time in office before her. Now that electoral participation has become an afterthought, puppets of the state like Mufti and Abdullah will not be able to reverse these trends.

As Hindutva politics dominates Indian political discourse, Kashmiris will only become more adamant in their calls for freedom. Why would they want to remain in the union where so many support the Hindutva agenda?

There’s just one question for India. Is there any way to turn things around? Perhaps at one point in time, the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or a return to semi-autonomy would have been able to quell sentiments of independence temporarily.

However, instead of making attempts to bridge the gap between the people of Kashmir and the Indian State, India has instead signalled that they plan on doing the exact opposite. The rise to power of Yogi Adityanath, a controversial BJP leader who at one point stated, “If they take one Hindu girl, we will take 100 Muslim girls” is evidence of this.

Kashmiris are concerned about the growing wave of anti-Muslim activity in India, as quite regularly, news spreads of a Muslim man being beaten to death by angry Hindu mobs for eating beef.

Summer has always been the major season for unrest and protest in the Valley. As Kashmir begins to thaw from the cold winter, India should expect an even stronger wave of protests than last year. Unlike the unrest of past summers, this season brings with it a new sense of urgency that had not existed before. Burhan Wani’s death along with the death of nine other Kashmiris will be at the forefront of the mind of the Kashmiri people. In short, the problem is going nowhere, anytime soon.

Liberal Indians must now ask themselves, is it still in the nation’s best interest to grip onto the Valley for dear life? Each passing summer adds dead Kashmiri men and women to the nation’s collective moral conscience.”

Few options remain for the Indian government in Kashmir. Kashmiris will continue to resist Indian occupation in the Valley regardless of whatever efforts with good faith the government attempts. Liberal Indians must now ask themselves, is it still in the nation’s best interest to grip onto the Valley for dear life?

Each passing summer adds dead Kashmiri men and women to the nation’s collective moral conscience. Time is running out for India to make amends for these crimes. So long as India continues to allow communalism and militarism to dominate the discourse on the Kashmir issue, Kashmiris will not listen. India will not like their response.

Omar Kanjwal is a Kashmiri-American and a 4th-year student studying politics at Georgetown University. His family hails from Srinagar.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent the views of the GU India Ink Staff


Image Source: Waseem Andrabi/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images