Historic J&K polls end on high note

25 December 2008
The Hindustan Times
Arun Joshi

Jammu: The seven-phased assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir ended on a historic note on Wednesday with an aggregate voter turnout of 62 per cent. The turnout raised hopes that a truly representative assembly will be formed after the counting of votes on December 28. Polls at a glance This is a huge improvement over the 43 per cent registered in the last elections in 2002, and the highest since the beginning of armed insurgency in the state in 1989. The last phase of elections on Wednesday, saw 55 per cent voting. Historic is how these polls are being referred to in political and administrative circles as well as among ordinary people. This is so because there were apprehensions of violence and thin popular participation due to the boycott call by separatists. The atmosphere in the state was also charged after the Amarnath land controversy, which saw violent protests over the transfer of 100 acres of forest land near Srinagar to the Shri Amarnath Yatra Shrine Board. This led to the fall of the coalition government headed by the Congress's Ghulam Nabi Azad after alliance partner People's Democratic Party withdrew support. Governor N.N. Vohra described the polls as a people's victory. The unprecedented participation level and the peaceful completion of the (electoral) process strongly demonstrates that the three geographically, culturally and socially distinct regions of the state have strong integral bonds and linkages which cannot be fractured by forces inimical to the unity and integrity of the state, he told Hindustan Times.Continued from Page 1 Apart from the highest turnout, these elections saw the absence of coercion (the biggest charge against the central government and the Indian Army during the 1996 and 2002 polls), violence (61 incidents in 1996 and 48 in 2002), non-interference by militants and the very fact that the elections could be held when the streets of Kashmir were reverberating with the demand for freedom. All these factors make the elections a historic one. There was no fear of the militant's gun this time as the United Jehad Council, a conglomerate of 14 militant outfits based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, while denouncing elections, had stated that 'there would be no use of guns in the polls. This statement by the council chief Syed Salahuddin was in stark contrast to the bullet-and-bombing campaign in the 1996 and 2002 polls, when militants had warned people against voting. This is the first election in 20 years when everything turned out to be a surprise. Chief Secretary S.S. Kapur said, 'good planning, efforts and a free and transparent administration' ensured that all pre-election apprehensions turned out to be unrealistic.