Why deferring Anantag by-poll to May could wreck yet another Kashmir summer
The death of eight people during Srinagar's by-poll on Sunday brought the Valley to its brink. People anticipated that the Anantag by-poll, scheduled for Wednesday, would be the last straw before Kashmir tips into fresh turmoil.
Therefore, on Monday afternoon as the Chief Electoral Officer Shantmanu went into a huddle with all the political parties to decide on the deferment of the Anantag by-poll, the Valley waited with bated breath.
Most people sat close to their television and radio sets as the government had shut down mobile and broadband internet. The air was thick with tension and uncertainty.
Late at night when the Election Commission decided to defer the by-poll, the Valley breathed a collective sigh of relief. The spectre of fresh unrest in the middle of spring had only just been averted. The day after, Tuesday, the tension had eased off and the uncertainty had come to an end.
But only just.
What are the issues now?
The polls have only been deferred to 25 May, the start of Valley’s all-important summer which is critical to tourism and business. A short deferment means only the perpetuation of the current tension rather than its redressal. There's also the possibility of a fresh turmoil to boot should more killings take place on polling day.
“Is the postponement for a month and a half the answer? Not at all. The by-poll has only been further pushed towards the summer, the peak tourism and business season,” read a front page editorial in Greater Kashmir, the leading English daily of Valley which termed the deferment “a cure worse than the disease”.
“The election campaign and the polling day will thus keep the tension alive and kicking. This has only perpetuated the source of current anger rather than sought to address it. A month hence Kashmir would be confronted with the same troubled state of affairs.”
The newspaper has batted for either “an indefinite postponement of polls”, or holding of the exercise “sometime in winter”.
“Nothing is more important than peace and stability during the few months of warmer climate, so critical to Valley’s economy,” the editorial further reads.
“If anything is sorely needed, it is a sincere outreach to the political groups for an abiding resolution of the issues underpinning the festering conflict in the state.”
Suffering economy, lives
The current consternation in the Valley had its genesis in the six-month long unrest last year which hit the economy hardest besides leading to a loss of nearly a hundred lives and several hundred blindings.
“The deferment for one and a half month will make little material difference to the situation on the ground. The anger is hardly going to dissipate,” said Naseer Ahmad, a columnist.
“So, 25 May will confront the government with a redux of the current situation. It was far better if the government had held the bypoll in Anantnag on schedule and been done with it,” he added.
The ECI decision to postpone the Anantnag bypoll has also come under flak from the independent candidates. More so, after the Election Commission ordered a re-poll on 38 booths in the Srinagar Constituency.
“If the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat bypoll had been postponed in view of the security situation, then why had the same not been done for the re-polling at 38 booths of the Srinagar Constituency,” independent candidate Sajad Ahmad Sheikh asked.
“Did the killings not occur in Budgam? Does the PDP-BJP government want to spill more Kashmiri blood?”
However, the government decision to postpone Anantnag bypoll was forced by intelligence inputs about a more fierce opposition to process in the Constituency than was witnessed in Budgam, otherwise a zero-militancy district for the past decade.
In the recent years, South Kashmir, which forms Anantnag Parliamentary Constituency, has emerged as the spearhead of the Valley’s resurgent separatism. South Kashmir has also led the way, with massive funeral attendance, followed by protests near encounter sites.
“There is anger among youth, a very genuine anger. They don’t want polls,” said PDP leader Waheed Parra.
“We want participation to rise and therefore need more time”.
But the way the situation is shaping up in Valley, the bypoll in Anantnag is going to be a far bigger challenge. The recent election campaign in South Kashmir has been an eye-opener. Wherever politicians went, more often than not, they were greeted by the protests by the knots of youth, throwing stones and shouting pro-Azadi slogans. The youths barred political rallies forcing the parties to hold secretive indoor meetings.
The six months of unrest last year was expected to have set in a fatigue and lead to a participation in the polls, however, the hostile response to the bypoll has come as a rude shock.
Similarly, from a phenomenon strictly limited to downtown Srinagar and some urban pockets such as Baramulla, Sopore and Anantnag, the stone throwing has now spread far and wide – even to small, obscure villages.
“The priority this time should be a political outreach to the Valley. Not the elections,” said Naseer.
“The depth of alienation demands political redressal, not a provocation.”
Edited by Jhinuk Sen