“Everyone has to die one day…. One shouldn’t fear death.… God is the ultimate saviour.” These words are not from a sermon to believers, but were spoken by Nizamudin Bhat, general secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), at an election meeting in South Kashmir on March 25. In the audience were around 300 party workers, almost everyone above 40 years of age. With no flags, festoons and banners, it looked like anything but an election crowd.
The workers had come to hear Mufti Tassaduq, the 45-year-old PDP candidate for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat. Cinematographer-turned-politician Tassaduq is the only son of the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and brother of CM Mehbooba Mufti. Bhat’s “inspirational” words signalled the party’s apprehension of a low voter turnout on April 9 and April 12, when bypolls will be held in Anantnag and Srinagar parliamentary constituencies, respectively.
The fear isn’t unwarranted, indeed, as the separatists’ call for a poll boycott this time comes after several months of protests across the Valley since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8 last year. In fact, on March 13, three days after the bypolls were announced, unidentified armed men killed a former sarpanch in Pulwama, after which panchayat members across the Valley declared they had nothing to do with any of the contesting parties. And on March 26, there was a huge funeral march following the killing of two local militants in Pulwama, indicating that any such incident could snowball into a big crisis, affecting voter turnout in the bypolls.
While the Anantnag seat has been vacant since Mehbooba was elected to the assembly and took over as CM in April 2016, there has been no Srinagar MP since Tariq Hamid Karra, who had defeated former CM...