We pride ourselves on having a political system that is far superior to any in the immediate, even extended, neighbourhood From an impressive 65 per cent in the winter of 2014, the voter turnout plunged to 7 per cent and 2 per cent in the recently conducted Srinagar by-polls. The question that should be worrying us as a nation is: Why and how did the voter turnout crash?
IN November-December 2014, the entire nation lauded, indeed celebrated the unprecedented voter turnout in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections. The overall voter turnout of 65 per cent was in freezing temperatures, even as people were struggling to recover from the devastation caused by the terrible floods of September 2014. A little over two years later, the voter turnout in the recently concluded by-polls in Srinagar and Budgam constituencies dipped to 7 and 2 per cent, respectively.
We pride ourselves on having a political system that is by far superior to any other in the immediate and extended neighbourhood.
Instead of that unprecedented voter turnout, we are now witnessing unprecedented stone-pelting and violence with the rage shamefully engulfing school and college children. The victor and vanquished of the electoral process, and ironically the disruptors of democracy all seem to be together on the same page, as they level accusations and counter-accusations on the violence rather than answering the how and why of the violence.
Talking about the Parliamentary elections in April-May 2014, one of the most erudite and experienced personalities of Kashmir had told me, “In Kashmir Farooq Abdullah losing is unthinkable”. He added, the Kashmiri voter had learnt to make choices and more importantly faith in the “Indian” electoral system had been revived.
The more critical elections obviously were the Assembly elections, due after some months. He went on to add, “If you succeed in providing that sense of security without being obtrusive or intimidating, people will come out in large numbers.”
Soon after our conversation came the unfortunate devastating floods in September 2014. Loss of property was huge, mercifully human loss, though sad was limited, particularly so given the scale of the disaster. Most political quarters made pleas to postpone the elections to the next year, but the people, administration and the security forces were ready to go ahead. The people were desperate to get their flood relief quickly through an effective administration. The Election Commission decided to go ahead in November-December, just before harsh winter sets in. For security forces this is the toughest period when temperatures have dipped but it has not snowed yet.