Kashmir is witnessing a series of unrest after troops killed five rebels. In addition, after Pulwama attacks, a continuous stream of attacks against Kashmiri students and workers have been unleashed. But will the mounting tension weeks before the crucial General Election affect the voter turnout is something to wait and watch for. As empirical evidence shows, the socio-political context and voter turnout in Kashmir are related. And more importantly, it is not election results but the voter turnout that tells us the reality of Kashmir.
There were wide apprehensions on the state of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir after the urban local body elections held in October 2018 after 13 years witnessed lowest voter turnout since years. The elections that held in four phases saw single digit voter turnout that never happened since decades.
It is interesting as to how the different central governments over the years have marked even the lowest single digit turn-out as an acceptance of Indian democracy. However, the Tahreek parties, which stands for an independent Kashmir, do not contest the the General Elections as a symbolic rejection of the Indian sovereignty.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah had blamed the Modi government for the low voter turnout in Kashmir. After the low voter turnout he tweeted, “From the highest turnouts since 1987 in 2014 to the lowest turnouts ever recorded in 2018 why is the Modi government able to get away with its disastrous handing of Kashmir almost unquestioned?”
“Have people of Kashmir lost faith in democratic institutions? Are we staring at a time ahead when there will be no taker for democratic processes in Kashmir?” he asked. “From 80% participation in 2011 Panchayat elections to over 70% turnout in 2014 Assembly elections, look where we stand today. This is the danger which the Centre is refusing to see through,” noted Ali Muhammed Sagar of National Conference.
As Omar pointed out, the voter turnout of Kashmir over the years do tell a story. The by-election happened in 2017, saw a voter turnout of 7 percent. This was the lowest turnout that Kashmir had ever witnessed until the re-election at the same place where just 2 percent voted.
As the country is nearing another election, the situation in Kashmir remains the same, if not worse. However, the election commission has already made early visits to the state to ensure a smooth election. In between the rumours of an impending war, the voter turnout in General Elections will reveal Kashmir’s mandate.