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Lessons and Challenges for Mainstream Parties.:Polls and Boycott

The polling for the state urban local bodies is over and the results have been declared. In Kashmir the recent elections have been quite different from earlier ones as much as the exercise came and went without attracting any attention from public domain or political parties or even non-party candidates. Not only because nearly the entire population of the valley did not show any interest in the exercise, but also because both the major mainstream political parties, National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party boycotted the elections to post their protest to the GoI against its policies and approach towards the valley’s problems and issues, particularly those pertaining to Article 35A and 370. The boycott thus augmented the already announced boycott call from the Hurriyat leaders that has been propagating the boycott agenda since three decades on almost same grounds. Consequently the entire exercise of the elections was characterised by the conspicuous absence of any campaigning activity by the candidates and the voters from the polling booths.

Thus, for the first time ever both mainstream and the separatists found themselves in the same league and sang from the same song-sheet so far as these elections are concerned, may be of a less significant nature. It may  be a little ambitious to term it an absolute agreement between the two groups over Kashmir problem, but the otherwise warring groups could at least be said as being on the same page after their perpetual contradictory positions. It may however not be wrong to infer that the boycott line towed by both NC and the PDP vindicated the age-old stand of the Huriyat that participation in any electoral process in the persistently turbulent scenario is futile even as New Delhi has been shunning away from offering some political space to the separatist leadership, pursuing an iron fist policy and continuing to be in the denial mode so far as the fundamentals of the Kashmir problems are concerned.

It is amazing to see that the parties which have been disrespecting the public sentiment and obliging New Delhi and endorsing its policies viz-a-viz Kashmir have realized the futility of the election process  and turned vocal against the same policies which they have been wilfully following and implementing for them till recent past. They now ask New Delhi to show some seriousness towards the miseries the valley has been subjected to since past three decades. National Conference even publically vowed to stay away from upcoming parliamentary and possible assembly elections until New Delhi responds to its demands. Needless to say that the active participation of these very parties in the earlier elections, even when the valley has been in worst of the tumultuous times, has been one of the major factors for government of India to ignore the popular sentiment of the valleyites and showing no regard to the ground realities of Kashmir.

Ironically the government just did not give a damn to the non-participation of the NC or the PDP and not even the people in the poll process. PDP and the National Conference failed to inflict any anxiety or mount pressure on New Delhi that categorically refused to offer an olive branch to the valleyites or the parties as such. Not only did they go ahead with their original schedule of the polls, but are also now boasting of the smooth conduct and successful outcome of the process.

 

The government tactfully veiled the results in statistical jugglery and highlighted the combined turnover of the state including few areas of the valley. The government even patted itself in self-praise for smooth and successful conduct of the poll process.  Media in general also did not bother itself much as to whatever happened to the elections. It had spicier material to fill their bulletins and headlines. The Raffale Deal, Me too campaign, Sabarimala Temple stand -off just did not allow Kashmir elections to find some space in the prime time coverage. The government thus conveyed a clear message to those mainstream parties who boycotted the polls that things can be done without them also, same way as they are done without peoples’ participation.

 

It is very difficult to judge the real motive of the mainstream parties behind the poll boycott. One would have to keep wondering whether they had genuine concerns about the issues they have raised, or they feared a backlash from the electorate whom they have been deceiving since ages. It is also possible that they misjudged the situation and underestimated New Delhi thinking that there would be no poll possible without them in the fray and New Delhi would yield to the pressure of the boycott plank. The poll boycott tactics however failed to cut any ice with the BJP-led central government as it did not show any worries about their non-participation. It did not relent even a bit and continued with the ‘iron fist’ policies through military might. There was no commitment towards the protection of Article 35-A or 370 either. PDP and NC thus landed in no-man’s-land losing both face as well as the chance to grab power at local bodies. Their pro-India stance did not attract any considerations and the center went ahead with its plans about the elections and other security related operations.

 

The response from the centre must have hit these parties hard as their character of projecting themselves and behaving as more Indian than the average Indian did not help them. The National Conference ‘supremo’ tried his best to become a darling of the new governor. He could be seen by his side almost everywhere during governor’s initial days in the office, but failed to attract any favours. Both the National Conference and the PDP must have learnt a lesson for good. They are dispensable for India as much as they are dispensable for the valleyites.

 

Far from gaining any ground for themselves in New Delhi or in the valley, the poll boycott has put forth more challenges to the boycotting parties. The issues which they raised with the government and which prompted them to stay away from polls did not get addressed and they remain as live as they have been. The government simply turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to their pleas and threats. They would now need a very brave face to say yes to the assembly or the parliament elections which are round the corner. At the same time it seems unlikely that the centre would offer any concession or make any commitment to these parties for being around.

 

Having tasted the so-called success without the participation of PDP and NC, the centre may become more arrogant than before. Having got themselves caught in the boycott web, there may not be an easy exit for these parties. It will be hard for them to justify their participation and go the people when New Delhi has bluntly refused to relent even on the small issues and instead preferred their boycott.  Both the parties must have realized their worth both in New Delhi as well as in Kashmir. ULB election may not have had much to offer, but the coming parliamentary and the possible assembly elections have higher stakes for both the mainstream parties. The greed for power may however dominate every other consideration. Let us see which way the wind blows.

 

 

 

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