Statistics Show Kashmiris Ready To Join Global Trend
14 February 2005
The Times of India
Srinagar: In Jammu and Kashmir, where separatist politics and militancy define day-to-day life, people have used a civic election to show they are ready to defy terrorism to choose who shapes local policy. Statistics from the civic polls held in the state after 27 years reveal how not only in the predominantly Hindu area of Jammu but throughout the Valley, people have defied militant threats and boycott calls given by separatists. Kupwara witnessed the highest voter turnout, with 87% sending a message of ballot over the bullet. It left Jammu behind by three per cent, a trend that could be seen only before militancy erupted in the valley in 1989. In previous assembly and parliamentary elections, Kashmir and Jammu regions showed opposite trends, with Kashmir hardly participating and the latter compensating for that by polling heavily. In the fourth and last phase of civic elections in Kashmir, 67% polling was recorded for Budgam and Ganderbal municipal council committees despite the killing of elected National Conference councillor Mohammad Maqbool Shah outside a mosque in Srinagar on Wednesday. In Khansahab assembly segment, the turnout was 81%, followed by 76% in Budgam, according to the chief electoral office. These figures were remarkable, says chief electoral officer Rakesh Gupta. 'It shows that the security situation has improved over what we had in previous polls and this time people came forward to support grassroot-level democracy and governance.' In the Valley, people are clear about why they queued up outside the booths. 'The Kashmir conflict is a bigger issue which we can't resolve. It's for leaders and rulers to decide about it. But what we can do is improve our civic life,' says Riyaz Ahmad, a former militant and now elected councillor from Baramulla. Some said the people had somewhere started deciding about their daily existence. 'The polls were about local issues of garbage and drains, dilapidated roads and water supply connections,' said Hajira Begum of Hazratbal. 'Our candidates were our own acquaintances and friends, unlike the candidates of assembly and parliamentary elections who force their representation on an entire constituency.' After Kupwara and Jammu, Kathua district polled the highest, with 77% turnout. Baramulla on the border had 48% and Anantnag 37%.