As Parties Squabble, J&K Readies For Better Future

27 December 2008
The Times of India

New Delhi: Long before it came under international scanner for the Mumbai carnage, Lashkar-e-Taiba had added a deadly dimension to militancy in Kashmir by launching a string of suicide attacks from its base in the upper reaches of north Kashmir's Bandipora town in 1999. But after years of blood and guts, Bandipora ironically heralded the change of mood in the Valley as it turned out to vote in numbers in the first phase of J&K polls on November 17. Bandipora went to polls along with Leh, Kargil and Poonch districts and recorded a turnout of 69%, the best in the elections spread over seven phases. The enthusiasm rubbed off on other areas as people continued to defy boycott calls to make the elections most credible in decades. Many compare the balloting with the historic 1977 polls, which, according to Kashmir expert Sumantra Bose was a great improvement to 'farcical election between 1951 and 1972' and contributed to stability by opening up political space. The turnout exposes the separatists' limited appeal, which doesn't extend beyond Srinagar and pockets in north and south Kashmir. The people's verdict has humbled them so much that they have called for introspection. The situation turned out to be far removed from the summer of 2008 when separatists sat pretty assuming that the 'psychological blow dealt by the post-Amarnath blockade had triggered an irreversible separatist sentiment'. The credit for the turnaround, according to analysts like former Jammu University vice-chancellor Amitabh Mattoo, goes to the bitter rivals PDP and the NC.'The two parties effectively mobilized people by convincing them that only an elected government would deliver.' The credibility of the elections can also be gauged by the fact that unlike 1996 and 2002 elections, there were no reports of security forces herding people to the polling booths. Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir government on Saturday restored SMS service in the state, almost four months after it was suspended during the Amarnath land row.