J-K Polls: High Voter Turnout Shows People Want Peace

26 December 2008
The Indian Express

Srinagar: People in Jammu and Kashmir may have rejected the boycott call by separatists by turning out in large numbers to vote in the assembly polls but for many of them the sentiment for 'freedom' hasn't died. According to commoners in the valley, development and resolution of Kashmir problem are two separate issues. 'People of late have realised that development and resolution of Kashmir problem are two separate issues,' said Mohammad Siddique, a retired officer. 'Bijli (power), paani (water) and sadak (road) are the issues of common concern but the encouraging participation of the people in the democratic process is fundamentally an assertion of their self-respect and identity,' he said, adding that the process of elections cannot be seen as isolation of the need for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. He, however, said that participation of the people would create an enabling environment for the peaceful and amicable settlement of the Kashmir issue. Echoing Siddique's views, political commentator Javid Ahmad said the scenario should not make the Centre complacent and the problem should not be left unaddressed. 'The heavy voter turnout reflected people's aspiration for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. The polling has not lowered the basics of the issue. The participation only reflects people's desire for peaceful resolution of this crucial problem through dialogue,' he said. According to Ahmad, the high turnout was not only a setback for separatists but also a shock for the contesting parties who were surprised by the massive turnout. 'They (political parties) were expecting a low turnout especially in the valley in the backdrop of massive summer demonstrations for the right of self determination,' he said. A supporter of separatists said people came out of their houses to vote on the hope that elected representatives will address their day-to-day problems. 'Although the sentiment of freedom is alive in our hearts, we voted for better facilities as elections and resolution of Kashmir issue are not linked with each other,' Ashiq Hussain, a resident of Khushipora area in Batmaloo, said. Hussain, who claimed he was among thousands of people who marched on the streets of Srinagar during the summer agitation for right to self determination, said 'Freedom is our right...we will continue to support the ongoing struggle.' However, he was critical of the separatists for giving the election boycott call. 'Boycott cannot help us. Instead it will aggravate our problems,' he said. '73 days for seven phases of elections in the state have hit the business community hard as curfew was imposed for 24 days since the poll process began on October 19. They have suffered a loss of Rs 5,000 crore,' Hussain claimed. Another resident Ayaz Ahmad said 'We have not forget the azadi. We voted for candidates who will provide us safe drinking water, round-the-clock electricity and better healthcare.' A resident of downtown city Fayaz Ahmad Bhat said he did not vote as elections cannot be a substitute to 'our demand for right of self determination'. State National Conference president Mehboob Beg says dialogue is the best way to resolve all issues. 'Everything could be resolved and achieved through dialogue. Arresting leaders as well as inciting people to boycott polls can lead us nowhere,' Beg said.