The recent by-election held amid boycott and violence in Sri Nagar constituency of India-Administered Kashmir (IAK) saw only 7% voter turnout. The agitated people snatched or damaged electronic voting machines in at least a dozen polling centers that compelled the authorities to shut down 70 polling centers. J&K’s chief electoral officer Shantmanu described April 9 as “not a good day for us”. The day also saw over 250 incidents that left eight protesters dead and about 200 wounded.
The Election Commission ordered re-polling in 38 out of 70 polling centers in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency in the hope of a higher voter turnout. But to their utter dismay, according to The Hindustan Times, a mere 2% voters showed up at polling stations, making it the lowest voter turnout in the state’s history. Election officials claimed that the situation was largely peaceful on re-polling day on April 13, but still the voters refrained from casting their votes, as the pro-independence groups boycotted the by-election.
People responded to the boycott call. Quoting an election official, The Hindustan Times said: “Only 709 of the 34,169 voters exercised their franchise across all the 38 polling stations.” No votes were polled in Khansahib assembly segment while only three votes were cast in Budgam segment and 84 in Chrar-e-Sharief segment, the official said. It is strongly believed, if elections were held throughout Jammu & Kashmir on that day the turnouts could be more or less same.
Massive boycott and poor turnout in the by-election and re-polling exposed one reality that Kashmiri people will never accept India as their motherland. The more India becomes atrocious and cruel to the Kashmiris, the more they become undaunted, rigid and uncompromising to reach their goal of independence from India. They face the Indian soldiers simply with stones. The Kashmiris reaction to Indian excesses is spontaneous and indigenous that reflects pro-independence aspiration on the one hand and Indian duplicity and atrocities on the other.
India has been using excessive and brute state force against unarmed Kashmiris in recent weeks. India seems to be unnerved by the spontaneous and growing unrest in IAK and has banned all social media to impose a news blackout. The so-called democratic and shinning India is not setting a really democratic example that shows any amount of respect for the people of Kashmir.
India’s forcible and manipulative occupation of Kashmir in 1948 was against the sentiment and aspirations of the Kashimiris who never welcomed or recognized the state’s ascension to India. On the other hand, by all counts of subcontinent’s partition in 1947, Kashmir should never have been part of India. Most of the Kashmiris still believe so. The popular sentiment on the streets of IAK is undeniable – independence from India or at least merger with Pakistan.
Top Kashmiri leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq echoed this sentiment when he said recently: “People have rejected this sham election as they are no longer interested in status-quoits politics,” Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, leader of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, an amalgam of pro-independence civil society groups, told the Indian ‘Outlook’ magazine. Mirwaiz believed that the Srinagar by-poll was a resounding defeat for those who had been arguing for years that participation of Kashmiris in elections can be read as a sign of their accepting the idea of Kashmir being an “integral part of India”. Since 1948 Kashmir has been marked as a disputed territory in the UN’s World Map.
India raised the Kashmir issue at the UN in 1948 and sought its mediation whether Kashmir should merge with India or Pakistan. UN Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution calling for to free and fair plebiscite under UN supervision to determine Kashmiris free will. Both the contenders welcomed the UN resolution and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru repeatedly pledged before the international community to honor the UN decision, which neither he nor his predecessors ever honored. India later claimed that participation of the Kashmiris in the internal elections administered by India was as good as plebiscite. The recently held by-polls and re-polls unveil the pattern of elections in Jammu and Kashmir, what India brands as equivalent to free and fair plebiscites (declared to be held under UN supervision). None of elections held in India administered Kashmir was free and fair and representative and those elections held under the barrel of gun and not under UN.
Being the largest democracy India should have resolved the issue in a civilized way. Indian bullets, rapes, tortures, imprisonments for the last seven decades utterly failed to diminish the negation of the Kashmiri people to Indian rule.
Kashmir, where India deployed over 7,00,000 regular soldiers, is the lone issue that drains down the resources of both the contending neighbors in strengthening their respective military muscles while millions on both sides still remain starved, uncured and live in subhuman conditions. Gross violations of human rights in Kashmir damages India’s image abroad. Kashmir issue will always act as a bar on India to enter veto-power club in UN Security Council, an ambitious dream that India nurses for decades.
The most astonishing episode is that the Western world that cries for democracy and human rights and invades country after country for these causes, keeps a mum and tactically encourages India to crush the Kashmiris. Such indifferent Western attitude may increase the risk of war between India and Pakistan. So the international community should respond to the brutal suppression of Kashmiris and minimize the possibility of unimaginable nuclear disaster that looms on South Asia.
The solution to the Kashmir crisis was aptly prescribed in the UN resolution that needs to be implemented to avert the looming nuclear disaster. The West Should work on it, as it (UN resolution) echoes the sentiment, hopes and aspirations of the Kashmiri people.
(Mohammad Zainal Abedin is a New York-based journalist & researcher. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)