Srinagar: Rajah, who runs an eatery at the Dal Gate in Srinagar, sums up the mood in the valley. “Who wants elections? What is to come out of them?” he asks, serving mutton curry and bread at his Standard Fast Foods.
A day after the Election Commission announced a seven-phase assembly poll in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday, spread across November and December, the man on the street here appears as cynical as he is indifferent about elections.
Ojaz Al Basheer, an auto driver in his late 20s, says with a mix of contempt and aggression: “No one will vote in these elections. The Hurriyat (separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference) will definitely try to stop it by holding protests.”
“So many people are dead (in the Amarnath land row), we are not happy. We fed the tourists who were trapped here for free, we gave them shelter and look at what happened to Kashmiris in Jammu, they were killed,” he adds, referring to the row over allocation of forest land in Kashmir to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.
A newspaper agent who sits at Lal Chowk, at the centre of Srinagar, says people will show interest in voting once the government ensures free and fair elections.
“I was a polling booth officer in the past two elections,” he claimed. “I have not seen even one vote being registered. When elections are free and fair, people might think of voting.” He didn’t want to be named.
Political parties in this state have dithered over announcing their participation in the polls, with the Mehbooba Mufti-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yet to confirm its participation. The National Conference agreed to participate only a day before the polls were announced.
The charges that elections are not free are galore as are fears that the voter turnout could be low. Though the state and Central election commissions have refuted such charges, Tanveer Ahmad, a law student, can’t hold back his anger. “Elections should be according to the will of the people and they must be fair,” he said. “I have not received my voter identification yet, but they are giving it to Bihari labourers who have migrated here. Then how can elections be fair?”
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader M.Y. Tarigami, who is likely to contest polls from South Kashmir, says the elections are too soon. He, however, says people will eventually come out of their discontent. “It is true that there is an element of reluctance... We hope good sense will prevail among the separatists and they will avoid confrontation.”
“Although we will participate, we feel the dates are too early,” says a PDP leader who didn’t want to be named as his party had not yet announced its decision, officially.
Analysts insist that this election may be a defining one for Kashmir as it is likely to throw up a fractured mandate in the valley, while in Jammu, people are expected to vote en masse for either the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party. They claim that a broken mandate in the valley could strengthen the separatist movement.