April 2019 News

Common Refrain In Valley: 'Why Should We Vote, What Have We Got?'

28 April 2019
The Tribune
Arun Joshi

Srinagar: Why should we vote? Almost everybody in Kashmir seems to be raising this question in this season of heightened electioneering in which the dominating narrative is all about the larger issue of Kashmir solution and Delhi-bashing in response to the ridicule unleashed by BJP leaders at the Centre. Ashraf had been voting in all past elections and this time when a local leader and former MLA in the dissolved Assembly came knocking on his door asking him to vote on April 18 (the day Srinagar parliamentary constituency went to polls), he had a question for her: 'Are you talking about my issues?' Pat came her reply: 'Of course, we are talking about the Kashmir issue, Article 370 and will defend it at all costs.' Ashraf was irritated by the answer and went on to count his woes: 'The roads are bad, the wear and tear of my car (taxi) has gone up, there are more potholes than roads, electricity has become a luxury and unemployment is troubling all homes.' These are considered mundane issues by political parties that think taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Kashmir policy were the real issues for those having raised a question mark about the future of Kashmir and its place in the Indian union. This is a question of life and death and cannot be made subservient to the mundane issues of 'sadak, bijli, pani.' Sure enough, common Kashmiris who had braved odds in previous elections to vote, each time with renewed hope something will change for better in their lives, ultimately had to face the bitter truth that issues concerning their daily life were diverted and they were left to fend for themselves. The issues that were there in the 1977 poll still remain unresolved. A large population has no access to good schools, health centres and there is no regular water and power supply. They disagree that militancy stopped the entire development. 'How come the roads were in a better condition in the 1990s (the peak of militancy),' says Rafiq, in his late sixties, unable to hide his anger and frustration over the dilapidated condition of roads in Srinagar. Political activists have a readymade answer to why there is low polling: the militants have infused fear. True that is there, but Kashmir has shown in the past that when it wants to vote, it does vote no matter how much influence the militants wield. There is anger towards politicians. Not a single party inspires confidence and hope, that's why people didn't come out to vote even in Bijbehra, the home town of PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, which went to the polls on April 23 in the first of the three phases of polling for south Kashmir constituency of Anantnag. Tomorrow, when the second phase of the Anantnag constituency is due for polls, the air is reverberating with the question: 'Why should we vote?'