The Blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine – we DISSENT

Kashmir by-poll: When democratic practice turns into a catastrophe

By Arif Khan

A thematic scrutiny of electoral system in a democracy would entail at least a conversation on the existential situation of a state and the purpose of government as advocated by different political scientists. While dealing with state and government, a sort of scholastic vibes of light would be directed to cast upon the election system. The light so cast is anticipated to take us to two discrete sides: whether our system could really address problems related to elections and if our existing rules and norms meet electioneering processes, especially in Kashmir.

Criminalisation of politics and politicisation of criminals are not only the features in our political structure but have become the basis for entire political gimmicks. Stories of capturing, rigging, bogus voting, impersonation, misuse of religions, caste and tribal identities, and various other corrupt practises are the greatest challenges to democracy.

The recent by-poll in Kashmir has seen a dramatic change. The poll has produced startling results in the Valley. On average 6.5 per cent of people voted in Anantanag Lok Sabha; this is very less in the electoral history of Kashmir. The Election Commission had to reorder polling in 36 booths. No vote was polled at 27 out of 38 polling stations during re-polls in various constituencies of central Kashmir’s Budgam district. Re-polling in 38 polling stations in Srinagar LS constituency, the final poll percentage was recorded at 2%.

The voting was marred by fresh clashes, protests, and violence between the armed forces and civilians resulting in the killing of eight civilians and 30 injured. Internet services were barred immediately. This election has shown the impact of last summer’s uprising, in which close to a hundred civilians were killed and thousands injured—by pellet and bullet.

The most significant question is: why has this exceptional violence taken place during an election boycott? The simple answer is that new generation of Kashmiri youth, born and brought up in the conflict of the nineties of the last century are in no mood to compromise.

In a press conference, the ruling PDP’s leader and in-charge of the Srinagar constituency, Imran Ansari said that he won’t deny the voting percentage is low but said there are obvious reasons why this is happening. “We have had a turbulent year last year in which scores of young boys died on the streets. This is not a win-win situation for anyone. No party can say that I won or whatever,” he said.

These alarming figures are clear signs for the both state as well as central government, which earlier claimed that only a handful of Kashmiris were protesting for freedom. This by-poll should open their eyes. Kashmiri youth are now in no mood to compromise. The intricate and homogenizing constraints of ideology and ‘nationalism’ usually applied in analysing the Kashmir conflict is not the correct frame now. These are clearly at variance with the plural realities and diverse political demands of the region’s various communities, ranging from affirmative discrimination to more autonomy, separate constitutional status within India or Pakistan, and outright secession.

Several stories outraged on social media. A video of army jawans being targeted by civilians led to a chorus of voices. People along with celebrities came in support and said that they are ‘standing by our brave army men and will not tolerate any kind of violence against them’. On the other hand, a civilian was used as a human shield by army. Nobody criticised the army for tying up a civilian to a jeep and parading him around in many villages like a human shield.

Recall those old Hindi films where the villain would drag villagers with a rope? We would grimace watching such scenes. Is there anyone outside Kashmir today who can hold their head high with a clean conscience?

Kashmir conflict now revolves around many complex, and polygonal issues, emanating from equally complex causes. Any hope for creating critical political opportunities that will allow the parties to explore ways to find a just, viable, and lasting solution to the conflict depends on deeper insight into these complexities. But now the engine of change – common people –responded with this minuscule percentage of voting. This is a clear cut indication for the political stakeholders that their attempt at peace-building has been futile attempt. This is an indication of the people’s disenchantment with the elections and political leaders. 

Arif Khan
is Research Scholar at Department of History and Culture, Jamia Milllia Islamia. He can be reached at


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Punjab: Marginal and Central’, edited by Karthik Venkatesh, author and editor, Bangalore, India.


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