Separatists Lie Low After High Voter Turnout

20 November 2008
Daily News & Analysis

New Delhi: The first phase of polling in Jammu and Kashmir has proved to be a mixed bag of shock and surprises. Separatists are dazed and disappointed because they believed that the euphoria for independence generated by the Amarnath land row would manifest in the poll boycott. On the other hand, it was a pleasant surprise for national political parties, as high-voter turnout is working as a morale booster for them for the coming six phases. Few had thought that people would queue up to vote in sub-zero temperature in areas such as Bandipora, Soawari, Gurez (in Kashmir), Mendhar and Surankote (Jammu region) and Nobra, Kargil and Zansakar in Ladakh, especially when the communal chasm caused in the aftermath of the land controversy was still fresh. The unease was writ large on the faces of the separatist leaders who have been trying hard to convince that this would not impact the ongoing “freedom movement”. Frontline pro-Pakistan leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani seemed conceding defeat while explaining the voting pattern in Kashmir constituencies. “Poor people of Gurez, Bandipore and Sonawari have been exploited by the political parties. There is no doubt they are facing problems, such as poor infrastructure and unemployment, and they came out to vote to get rid of these problems,” he admitted. The people of the three constituencies, all hotbed of terrorism, seem to have given precedence to good governance over all emotional and controversial issues. “A growing feeling among the people was not to miss this crucial opportunity to have their say in the new government through a representative of their choice. That seems to have done the trick,” said Javed Jalib, a social worker in Srinagar. The success of the first phase has definitely boosted the parties’ morale, as they were finding it hard to campaign fearing mass opposition to the elections. “High voter turnout is a manifestation of people’s faith in democracy,” senior Congress leader Abdul Ghani Vakil said. Questions are definitely being asked whether people have forgotten the outcry for “freedom” or it was the end of anti-India sentiment. “People want Kashmir issue to be resolved but they also want their share in the governance by electing a good candidate,” NC chief Omar Abdullah explained.