It is a fact that democracy comes to life when the electorate goes to vote. In India, the entire political system comes to life during elections. It is more of a “grand civic festival” and the magnitude of campaigning activity is enormous. The ongoing State Assembly Elections are no different. However, the safety of voters at poling booths is becoming an area of growing concern as regional insurgent groups resist election activity.
Around 200 people queued up along the LoC in the Nowshera constituency of Jammu and Kashmir in the second phase of Assembly Elections. They said they were voting for peace and a permanent ceasefire between India and Pakistan. The people of Jammu and Kashmir have witnessed violence and strife since India’s independence. Over 40,000 people have been killed in separatist violence in the state since the past two decades. Now, they want to see some change. One is deeply moved and inspired to see the spirit of democracy coming alive in the valley, as people boldly challenged separatist boycotts of elections and gathered to vote for a better and peaceful future.
Separatists, of course, have termed the elections ‘illegitimate’. The people don’t agree. National Conference leader Omar Abdullah firmly believes that the people are voting for “better governance” and “have consciously delinked the larger issue from their civic necessities”.
Regional insurgents are a menace to elections. They try to impose their own political agendas on people and present themselves as stalwarts of public interest. The current assembly elections are becoming prey to such factious regional demagoguery. While Hurriyat separatists are opposing the elections in J&K, Naxalites are maiming the voting process in Chattisgarh. But Indian voters are displaying exemplary courage by turning up to vote in large numbers everywhere.
The spirit of daring was visible in Chattisgarh’s Bastar and Dantewada regions, where voters flouted Naxal violence and voted despite the threat of gunfire. The voter turnout in the state was in fact quite high- 61% of the 88 Lakh eligible voters. People of the state want a decrease in the price of rice, their staple diet, and are voting even when two landmine blasts killed a militant at a polling booth.
But Naxal attacks on political leaders and party offices and the killing of two BJP leaders in Dantewada has put a stop on all election activity there. Several small scale explosions across the state have dampened the election activity. The Naxals have cordoned off villages and have prohibited political parties from entering them.
The Election Commission is making concerted efforts towards this issue. Militant protection is provided to voters at the polling booths in both J&K and Chattisgarh. It has also set up auxiliary polling stations at Salwa Judum relief camps in Chattisgarh. This group works to resist Naxal oppression in the area. These camps would enable 50,000 odd tribal settlers to exercise their franchise.
The country looks fractured by the presence of such regional dissenting groups. They use elections to retaliate against the government, which hampers election proceedings. What is needed is precedence of national goals over regional agendas. What is needed is a shared vision of a developed and safe future for India’s citizens. What is needed is Vision India.