Different shades of political and scholarly opinion reflect on the abysmal voter turnout in the Srinagar parliamentary by-election
The relevance of mainstream politics in Kashmir must not be seen through the prism of elections. It never mattered to Kashmiris. We need to understand that the collective soul of Kashmir is in pain. No amount of votes can change its political mood. It’s a dispute and needs to be addressed. Remember, Kashmir is inextricably linked with South Asia. And mainstreams politicians need to hear the heartbeat on the ground rather than gloating over poll turnover.
-- Prof Abdul Gani Bhat
Senior leader, Hurriyat Conference
The space for mainstream politics has undoubtedly shrunk in Kashmir today. It has happened because of the people’s anger against the present dispensation headed by Mehbooba Mufti. It is genuine anger and I believe it is a high time for Delhi to address the political aspirations of Kashmiris. As the state’s main mainstream party, the National Conference is working on the resolution of the Kashmir issue, and is taking that sentiment forward.
-- Nasir Aslam Wani
Provincial president, National Conference
Why only mainstream politics, the space for all politics in the valley stands squeezed today. The situation is clear to everyone. There is outrage, and this outrage coupled with violence is being directed at mainstream politicians. The latest voter percentage is the reflection of this outrage. The only way to address this issue is to find common ground. None can deny that genuine aspirations of people are there. We need to sit, talk and find a solution together.
-- Nizam Ud Din Bhat
General secretary, PDP
It isn’t the gun of Salahuddin but the unbending attitude of Kashmir’s fourth generation that has resulted in this historic low poll percentage, proving how mainstream politics is a sham in the valley. It is a clear warning to Delhi and a lesson for Kashmiri unionists. They should imitate Engineer Rashid by pressing hard for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the assembly and elsewhere. I believe that 10,000 guns of Mujahideen cannot achieve what the assertive voice of Dr Farooq Abdullah and his cohorts can.
-- Azam Inquilabi
Former militant commander
I think it’s too early to write an obituary of mainstream politics in Kashmir, which has gone through many ups and downs in the past but always retained some hold. What we are witnessing now is a passing phase. The idea of separatism was at its peak in 1975 when Sheikh Abdullah returned to power as the chief minister. And that sentiment changed with time. Likewise, mainstream politics went into hiding in the 1990s before they made a comeback in 1996. That said, I don’t see mainstream politics reviving anytime soon in Kashmir. There is too much alienation and resentment around.
-- Prof Noor Baba
Mainstream politics is dying in Kashmir because the unionists have been long toying with the people’s aspirations, using ‘autonomy’ and ‘self rule’. People have realised that such traditional party posturing is hopeless and, therefore, they have gone against them. I believe both the NC and the PDP should come on a common platform to fight for the plebiscite. If they don’t, some saner voices will do so and replace them.
-- Engineer Rasheed
The lowest poll turnover in Kashmir is the writing on the wall for mainstream politics. One should not confuse it with violence on the ground. I had cautioned all mainstream leaders that the electoral process itself cannot yield a solution to the Kashmir dispute. I did my duty. Now it is up to these leaders to come together, show respect to public sentiment, and ask the Union of India to course-correct.
-- Saifuddin Soz
Senior leader, Congress
The so-called mainstream politics died in the 1990s itself when Kashmir rebelled against the Indian state. Still, Delhi presented mainstream politics in Kashmir as the genuine representation of the people’s aspirations. This dismal poll turnover is a big blow to that claim and a clear defeat of Delhi’s idea of mainstream politics in Kashmir. It was always a farce and a politics of occupation that thrived on sentiment. The National Conference boycotted the 1995 parliamentary polls on sentimental grounds, only to embrace the assembly polls a year later on the same grounds. Even the PDP abused sentiment to seek votes and get into power in 2002. This is how they always created a constituency for themselves, but it has backfired now. Last year, Mehbooba said that only 5 percent people take part in protests. This poll turnover must be a wakeup call for her.
-- Altaf Khan
As a keen Kashmir watcher and somebody who reported from ground zero in the thick of the insurgency, I clearly see anger against Delhi and its managers on the ground. Fact is this low turnout should encourage both Delhi and Srinagar politicians to rise above the terrorism-tourism rant. Given the present central government is the worst Kashmir could ask for, local mainstream politicians have only become more irrelevant. But being handpicks of Delhi, they certainly can play a role by bringing the Hurriyat, Islamabad and Delhi together, like Mufti Sayeed did in 2002, unlike his adamant daughter. My experience tells me no one actually becomes irrelevant in Kashmir.
-- Aditya Sinha
Through the so-called mainstream politics and elections, India has been forcing a conversation between the people of Kashmir and the Indian state. The Indian state has historically maintained control through overwhelming violence across Kashmir’s rural and urban spaces. Now with the modes of popular resistance changing, the violence is being responded to with counter-violence, leading to leakages in the Indian state’s control. This counter-violence has returned the control to the people, which they exercise by not voting. Counter-violence causes excommunication and that is the most effective form of violence against any power. If this excommunication is carried forward from parliamentary to assembly elections, the so-called mainstream will disappear from the political landscape of Kashmir.
-- Basharat Ali
For something to die, it must first exist. But mainstream politics never existed in Kashmir. It was just that people flocked to politicians for jobs and developmental works. They were essentially seen as an extension of Delhi’s rule in Kashmir and, therefore, disappeared from the scene when the war broke out in the 90s. I am afraid they might face worse consequences if the ongoing political crisis escalates in the valley.
-- Anwar Ashai