A string of recent targeted killings in Kashmir of non-local residents has struck fear in the hearts of many communities living and working in the Valley. Three tragic incidents – the murder of a Kashmiri Pandit fruit grower in Shopian last Saturday and the killing of two labourers from Uttar Pradesh, again in Shopian, in the late hours of Monday – added to the atmosphere of fear. Despite angry protests and repeated reassurances from the government, it is now fairly clear that a purely securitised response is not likely to yield satisfactory results. After all, the first targeted killings rocked the Valley in late 2019 when five migrant workers were gunned down in Kulgam district. And though security forces regularly track down those responsible for these attacks, and say they’ve killed many perpetrators, the frequency and accuracy of these strikes point to a deeper malaise.
Preparations for the upcoming elections were expected to soothe tempers while bolstering the government’s people connect and outreach and reversing the trust deficit. But the run-up to the elections has been marked by polarising rhetoric around the possibility of people who are not permanent residents of the Union Territory becoming voters, which has, no doubt, ratcheted up animosity against “outsiders” and accentuated long-held concerns among local groups of demographic change. To tamp down on the violence will need a rapid de-escalation of anti-outsider rhetoric as well as confidence-building measures by the local administration, which will have to demonstrate to disparate groups that it is open to listening and addressing grievances – whether civic, economic or political in nature.
The right to exercise a democratic franchise has always been an emotive and cherished ideal in Kashmir, where, unfortunately, elections have had a long and troubled history with complaints of voter irregularities. This was demonstrated most violently in the aftermath of the botched 1987 elections, widely seen as having seeded the kernels of discontent that malicious actors later exploited to violent ends. Therefore, conducting free and fair elections in the region is not only important to give the people a voice in matters of their own governance and livelihood but also to keep malevolent elements at bay. A responsive government moving quickly to hold elections and restore statehood and a political class focused on inclusivity rather than shrill rhetoric will be imperative to achieve this.
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