Kashmir Separatists Baffled By High Voter Turnout

24 December 2008
The Hindu

Srinagar: Was it an unwise decision by Jammu and Kashmir separatist leaders to call for a total poll boycott during the assembly elections? Some senior separatist leaders are beginning to think so after the high voter turnout witnessed during the polls that went on for over a month. Ignoring the separatists' poll-boycott calls, people came in droves to vote, with local issues like unemployment, education, healthcare and civic amenities taking precedence over emotive issues. Though the separatists continue to remain in denial mode, it is a fact that over 55 percent of Kashmiris voted in the polls Wednesday and the seven-phase elections registered 63 percent polling overall. “Day to day problems cannot wait till the issue of Kashmir is finally settled,” said Showkat Ahmad, 18, who cast his vote for the first time at a polling station in Hazratbal constituency of Srinagar city Wednesday. The wisdom of having called for a total poll boycott is now being questioned by some senior separatist leaders as well. “It was a hasty decision. I believe it was not properly debated before it was taken,” said Aga Syed Hassan Badgami, senior Shia leader and an important constituent of the moderate Hurriyat group, in a statement here Thursday. Though their boycott calls were ignored by the people, separatist leaders continue to maintain that the voting figures have nothing to do with the resolution of the Kashmir problem. The 20 percent polling in the eight constituencies of Srinagar district that went to the polls Wednesday where many anti-poll protests were held during the ballotting, is one saving grace for the separatists, as compared to over 55 percent voting everywhere else in the 46 constituencies of the Kashmir Valley. “The authorities arrested every separatist leader. They converted the valley into a fortified security force camp. It was not a democratic exercise at all. The international community must take cognizance of this fact,” Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said in a statement here, commenting on the official claims of high voter turnout in the valley. “The Mirwaiz is within his rights to say what he wants, but the fact remains that Kashmiris overlooked the separatist boycott appeals and chose to vote in large numbers,{rsquo}{rsquo} said Bashir Manzar, editor of a daily newspaper here. “Yes, there was very heavy presence of security men throughout the valley during the election phases, but nobody can claim people anywhere were forced to vote. “You can take the horse to the water, but you can't make him drink, and in the case of the elections in Kashmir nobody even took the horse to the water. People voted and openly said what they had been voting for,” said Manzar. Among the separatist leaders, the most worried is obviously the seniormost of them, Syed Ali Geelani, the chairman of the hawkish Hurriyat group. Geelani's dilemma is twofold. His boycott call was ignored and there were also reports that cadres of the Jamaat-e-Islami, his parent organization, voted for a certain political party. Geelani's influence among the rank and file of the Jamaat goes without saying. “The allegation that people belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami voted in these elections do not merit a response. None of the Jamaat supporters have voted anywhere during these elections,” said a spokesman of Geelani's Hurriyat, trashing allegations by regional National Conference (NC) patron and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah that Jamaat supporters had voted against the National Conference. Expressing the view of many others, a university teacher, who did not wish to be named, said: “The separatists shall definitely have to think of some better strategy. Otherwise they shall be distancing themselves from the common man in Kashmir.” Whatever the reasons for the high voter turnout in the valley, the fact remains that the separatist leaders are feeling colder than what the winter temperature would otherwise have made them feel.