Sanjay Kak

From Caravan Magazine: Ballot Bullet Stone

For Spring the mist was unseasonal, and visibility low on the highway that runs south from Srinagar. There was little traffic, and only men in uniform seemed able to move through the early-morning haze. In khaki, olive green, and mottled camouflage, heavily armed clusters of police, paramilitary and army personnel were everywhere. Their presence is routine in the Kashmir valley, where more than half a million Indian soldiers are stationed, making it one of the most densely militarised zones in the world

But that April morning was not routine. It was voting day in Anantnag, the constituency that covers Kashmir’s southern countryside. This was the first of three seats in the valley that people were voting for in the most recent elections to the Indian Parliament. The others were to follow at week-long intervals. That is probably the time it takes to reassemble the “security grid” for each constituency, without which the conduct of elections is impossible here. (On the day Anantnag, with its 1.3 million registered voters, held elections, 54 million voters in the southern state of Tamil Nadu cast their ballots for 39 seats.)

Kashmiris know that the members of parliament they are asked to vote for have no bearing on the masla-e-Kashmir, “the Kashmir issue,” whose central question of political self-determination has vexed the region for more than sixty years. Nor can their members of parliament significantly affect citizens’ access to roads, schools, hospitals, or even the all-important neighbourhood electricity transformer. Those are the domain of the state government, and elections for the state assembly are expected only at the end of this year. That’s probably why there were no posters or banners or flags or pennants to inform you of that day’s election. What was less easy to explain were the deserted roads, shuttered wayside shops, and the vague anxiety in the air.

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