Democracy May Be Taking Root In J&K

18 November 2008
The Times of India

New Delhi: A day after Kashmiris surprised everybody by defying boycott calls and braving the harsh winter to vote, the separatists questioned the 'high turnout claim' as mainstream parties hailed it as a peace dividend. Former chief minister and National Conference's chief ministerial candidate Farooq Abdullah said voters showed they wanted change and a government that'll do their work. 'Democracy is taking its roots,' he said. He, however, cautioned against euphoria. 'People have come out and voted. That's a good thing but let's not go beyond that as this is the first phase; there are many stages to go through,' Farooq said. Farooq's bitter political rival and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said the high turnout took her by surprise. She, however, claimed that people came out to vote to ensure NC's defeat. 'People were apprehensive that low turnout would help NC and that's why they thronged the polling stations. NC was counting on people's non-participation,' she claimed and added that people also realise that the government has a role to play in resolving the Kashmir conflict. The two regional parties may bicker on the turnout, but Jammu University vice-chancellor Amitabh Mattoo gives credit to both NC and PDP. 'Two well-established regional parties have effectively mobilised the people,' Mattoo said. He said, 'People have also voted because they want to elect a government to solve their day-to-day problems.' He said while the turnout reflects deepening democracy, only a shortsighted government would negate the important of wider dialogue involving separatists. Separatist leader Sajjad Lone said just three valley constituencies went to polls on Monday and that it was too early to get excited. 'There are seven phases; we’ve to wait for the whole process.' He said separatists weren't allowed to campaign as most of them remain under arrest. Columnist Prem Shankar Jha, who has been involved in back channel talks in the state, said the turnout shows surprising stability in the vote in the Valley. 'Absence of the militant threat has also played a part,' he said. He said if the overall percentage of voting in the Valley is higher than 35 it would be a welcome change. 'It would also suggest growing irrelevance of the Hurriyat,' he said and added the real test lies ahead when places like Srinagar, Sopore, Baramulla, Anantnag and Kupwara go to polls. 'The overall turnout needs to be compared with the only two free and fair elections of 1977 and 1983 in which the turnout was 72% and 71% respectively,' he said. 'If there's a large difference then it means Hurriyat is still relevant.'