At 7.1%, Kashmir’s mainstream faces existential crisis

With the Srinagar constituency seeing an unprecedented boycott, clouding the next by election in the extremely volatile south Kashmir, the mainstream political parties in the Kashmir valley are facing an existential crisis as new separatism is strengthening its foothold.
The 7.1 per cent turnout on Sunday in central Kashmir’s three districts was the lowest-ever in history of the Srinagar parliamentary constituency and of the region. The popular disinterest with the voting process — which was held in the backdrop of last year’s deadly unrest and a series of pro-militant protests — was less than what was seen during the militancy’s initial years.
The immense scale of boycott is leading to an existential crisis with the mainstream parties.
“We are not even thinking about the future,” said Nasir Aslam Wani, Kashmir zone president of the National Conference and a former legislator. “We are stuck in the present. I am involved in electoral politics since 1996, but I have never seen this sort of public anger and disenchantment of people against the mainstream politics and democracy,” he said.
Wani blamed the state government led by PDP and BJP — the two parties which had earlier contested the election by campaigning against each other — for the existing situation. “The law and order machinery has totally collapsed. The Chief Minister has no right to stay in the chair, she should step down,” he said. “We are worried by the entire situation. We have never seen this kind of election, it was the worst-ever,” Wani said.
Nazir Ahmad Khan, the PDP candidate who contested yesterday’s bypoll, was also dismayed by the security scenario. “The security arrangements were very weak. It was so weak that even four boys were able to lock polling booths,” Khan said.
The voting pattern was drastically altered as a new wave of separatism in the region is quickly replacing the traditional separatists with its belligerent and militant approach. The new separatism, led by militants and stone-throwing protesters, has strengthened its grip on the region since July 2016, when militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing in a gunfight sparked a widespread unrest.
Khan said the boycott was an indication of decline in the influence of mainstream parties and leaders. “If the Chief Minister gets a time gap to deliver then the situation can improve for overall mainstream…if not, it will be unfortunate for every party,” he said.
The scale of boycott yesterday was so widespread that even the traditional voting zones of central Kashmir, the districts of Ganderbal and Budgam, recorded a feeble turnout, subdued fervour and large-scale violence as protesters swarmed polling booths and threw stones at security personnel.
Eight civilians were killed as security forces opened fire on protesters in Ganderbal and Budgam districts, where residents queued up during the previous elections.
The low turnout has now cast a shadow on the next byelection in the already volatile Anantnag parliamentary constituency, which comprises four districts which were the epicentre of last year’s unrest.
Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, a legislator from south Kashmir’s Kulgam Assembly segment, said the situation was not conducive for the election. “The memory of 2016 is still fresh. The wounds have not healed,” he said.
He said political outreach had remained absent and instead the use of force by the government had increased. “There is not only alienation but there is huge disappointment and disillusionment,” Tarigami said. “The mainstream has to come up to the expectations of people. What happened yesterday is the consequence of neglect,” he said.