The Valley Speaks Through The Vote

107

ZAHOOR AHMAD SHAH

Since the eruption of militancy in Kashmir in 1989, mainstream politicians and separatists have played an important role in Assembly elections and Parliamentary elections alike. But this is the first time that Parliamentary elections have evinced such high interest in Kashmir.

The significance of every election lies in its ‘time and space frame’ and the ‘context’ in which it is held. Usually, Parliamentary elections in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir did not become talking points for the Valley. But owing to several factors, the climate this time was altogether different. Lok Sabha Election 2024 held great significance for Kashmir and is considered as an exceptional election in many respects.

This was the first election after the formation of J&K as a Union Territory (UT). Jammu and Kashmir was a state till August 5, 2019, when the special status of the State was revoked and it was divided into two Union Territories (Jammu and Kashmir; and Ladakh) under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019. The general elections were the first major polls since the elected State Assembly was dissolved and the UTs were brought under Centre’s rule headed by the Lt Governor.

The 2024 Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir marked a historic turning point in terms of democratic participation. The highest-ever voter turnout of the last 35 years was recorded in the Valley’s three Parliamentary Constituencies (PC) — Srinagar, Baramulla, and Anantnag[1]Rajouri. This remarkable participation is a profound indicator of the evolving political dynamics – the major features being the end of boycott politics and a prevailing environment of freedom from terror.

Overall voter turnout for Jammu and Kashmir UT increased from 44.37 in 2019 to 58.46 in 2024. The Voter Turnout (VTR) across the union territory stood at 58.46 per cent this year. The high voter turnout in Kashmir can be largely attributed to the efforts of J&K Administration and JK Police in creating a safe environment free from external threats. The administration’s commitment to security and the monitoring of potential threats from external elements, particularly “proxies of Pakistan” played a crucial role in ensuring the smooth conduct of the elections.

The National Conference (NC) and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) won two seats each. Abdul Rashid Sheikh, popularly known as Engineer Rashid, won from the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency. He contested under the banner of Awami Ittehad Party (AIP) but was deemed to be an independent candidate.

Rashid’s landslide victory against NC’s vice president Mr. Omer Abdullah, one of the giants of Kashmir politics, was the highlight of the election. The victory of Rashid Engineer also shook the roots of People Conference (PC), pushing Sajad Lone to the third position in the Baramulla LS constituency.

For the Srinagar constituency, the major party candidates were Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi of NC, Waheed-Ur-Rehman Para of PDP and Mohammad Ashraf Mir from J&K Apni Party (JKAP). A total of 24 candidates were in the fray, including a woman candidate Waheeda Tabasum Shah; cancer surgeon Ashraf Qazi and social media influencer Jibran Firdous Dar.

Agha Ruhullah and Waheed Para separately sought votes from people against the revocation of the special status in 2019. BJP did not field any candidate in any of the three seats in Kashmir, including Srinagar.

Congress and National Conference had a pre-poll alliance as part of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, commonly known by its acronym I.N.D.I.A. The partners believed that the alliance would help them in eliminating competition and consolidating the vote base.

LS ELECTION DYNAMICS IN KASHMIR VIS-À-VIS JAMMU

The election was held in an atmosphere of the polarization of communities and structural fragmentation of valley votes. This coincided with a conjectural consolidation of votes in the rest of the UT.

The fragmentation of the valley electorate was largely seen as part of political strategy and electoral re-engineering.

One of the most significant changes noted during this election was the palpable sense of freedom from fear among the electorate. People felt safe participating in campaigning activities including night rallies, roadshows, and door[1]to-door campaigns, without the looming threat of violence or intimidation. This newfound confidence is a testament to the effective measures taken by security forces to decisively deal with the forces that threatened the democratic process.

The banned Jamaat e Islami (JEI) J&K was historically known for its opposition to electoral politics and its role in monitoring and targeting individuals involved in such activities. JEI members publicly participated in the recent elections. This shift is indicative of a broader change in the region’s political climate. Participation of JEI reflects its recognition of the changing political dynamics in Kashmir and a potential shift towards a more open and democratic future.

Election and security officials made a sincere effort to enable the people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially the youth, to take part in the polls, which resulted in the record participation in the UT. Over Kashmir’s robust social media, an increasing trend was seen where youths made a strong statement about their beliefs and strongly supported democracy.

An average of 50 per cent of voters across J&K are aged from 18-39. Their faith in democracy is reflected in the high voting percentage this year, which is an encouraging and positive sign.

The Election Commission made it possible for Kashmiri migrant voters living in relief camps in Delhi, Jammu, and Udhampur to cast ballots by mail or in person at specific polling places. EC provided a total of 21 special polling stations in Jammu, one in Udhampur and four in Delhi.

CASTE/COMMUNITY FACTOR

BJP won both Lok Sabha seats in Jammu by consolidating the Hindu votes in its favour. The National Conference played the ‘Pir-Mureedi’ card to win the LS elections in the Srinagar constituency and the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency. Aga Syed Mehdi Ruhullah is a well revered leader of Shia community with a good share of votes in Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal.

Mian Altaf is a highly respected and influential spiritual leader of Gujjar community. The community factor played a huge role in both constituencies, and NC took its advantage wherever it suited the party.

LS 2024 WAS CELEBRATED LIKE A FESTIVAL IN J&K

Lok Sabha Elections 2024 were celebrated like a festival in Jammu and Kashmir. Across Kashmir, excited children and youths participated in awareness rallies, adventure sports events, nukkad natak, and many other activities organized by SVEEP (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation program), the flagship program of EC to raise awareness regarding voting.

Creating Igloos as a dummy polling place in Baramulla; organising a para-scooter event in Kathua; raising awareness at ‘Beating the Retreat’ ceremony on Suchetgarh border; organising a mega awareness rally in Teetwal near LOC, close to Dal Lake in Srinagar to Chougan in Kishtwar; and performing an instrumental version of the ECI song on the highest railway bridge were some of the SVEEP efforts.

Well-known singers performed in a variety of locations including Lal Chowk, Gulmarg, Kulgam, and Anantnag. A record number of voters turned out to vote because of the resurgence of democracy and the triumph of the ballot in every corner of UT.

Another aspect highlighting the success of the LS Election in J&K was high participation of female voters, and their increasing number. After addition of 2.3 lakh new voters in J&K UT, there are now 44.35 lakh male and 42.58 lakh female voters. The total number of voters stands at 86.93 lakh. The voter population and gender ratio in J&K has improved from 0.59 to 0.60, and 924 to 954 respectively.

The number of first-time voters, which constituted 3.4 lakh, played a decisive role in the LS Election. The number of voters with disabilities and transgenders was 67,400 and 158 respectively.

LS Election 2024 was an election of manifold dynamics and characteristics. The negative hype built by local politicians like Mehbooba Mufti regarding abrogation didn’t hold true, and she also lost the election from the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency by a huge margin. For PDP, LS Election 2024 was no less than a nightmare.

Lok Sabha Elections 2024 shall be seen as a significant milestone in the electoral history of Kashmir. The election marked the change of hotbeds of hostility to enthusiastic polling areas. The youth flaunted the ink mark on their fingers to register their faith in democracy. For Kashmir, this is a huge leap.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here