For two decades, whenever elections have been held in Jammu & Kashmir, the Centre has thrown the voter turnout at detractors of its Kashmir policy as evidence that everything was hunky-dory. Going by that logic, Sunday’s vote in the Srinagar parliamentary bypoll has taken the state back to where it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Aside from the violence in which eight people were killed, the turnout was the lowest since 1989, when it stood at about 5 per cent in the Kashmir constituencies. On the other hand, Kashmiris have also said they voted to elect a representative who could assure them of bijli-sadak-paani, that their turn-out at elections should not be mistaken for their higher political aspirations. But as is evident from the abysmal 7 per cent turnout in Srinagar, even that desire for a basic engagement with government appears to have evaporated over the last two and a half years — all of India had preened at the record turnouts in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
The writing has been on the wall since at least two years, when the promise of the grand coming together of the “North Pole and the South Pole” — as Mufti Mohammed Saeed, the late People’s Democratic Party patriarch, described his alliance with the BJP — started fraying almost immediately after the government took office. The alliance shocked PDP supporters who thought they were voting to keep the BJP out of the state, and gave opponents a good stick to beat it with. Mufti’s justification that a coalition with the ruling party at the Centre would bring benefits proved empty. The anger over the long delay in granting an adequate compensation package for the floods, the controversies over beef, Article 370, flag, the killing of a truck driver in Udhampur, the communal divide between Jammu and Kashmir, all peaked with the killing of Hizb militant Burhan Wani last July.
If the use of pellet guns against stone-pelting youth through the summer ensured that no external enemy was required to add fuel to the situation, the failure to take any steps of note towards reconciliation during the “peace” that descended after six months added to the mistakes. The PDP-BJP’s lofty pledge to “create a virtuous cycle of peace and prosperity” has remained unfulfilled. The coalition government’s promise “to facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections” could never take off due to the anti-Hurriyat red lines drawn by the Modi government. New Delhi’s initial outreach to Pakistan also came to naught. There is only word to describe it all — failure.