Kashmir Rejects Separatists In Polls? They Are Only 'half A Machil' Away
3 December 2014
The Hindustan Times
: Kashmir has come a long way electorally from the time terror organisations openly displayed television sets and coffins outside polling booths. Then, the message in no unclear terms was: whoever dares to vote can take the television as a prize but end up in the coffin. Fear outside polling stations was palpable all through the nineties and in the current election underway in the state, the headlines are emerging from the high voter turnout. Seldom have Kashmiris lined up in long queues but is the high turnout-71% in the first two phases-really a rejection of the separatists as we are being told? Are the Kashmiris really saying they want 'azadi' from the Hurriyat hardliners who would rather have the electorate boycott the poll? It would be foolish to read the mood in such banal and simplistic ways. The Kashmiris draw a clear distinction between an election and the larger political resolution of a dispute that has them firmly centered in the crosshairs. They vote for daily needs-bijli, sadak paani-as do you and I in UP, MP, Delhi or Karnataka. 'We have a right just like you do. Why should the government not provide us basic amenities,' is the popular refrain. They vote also because government schemes are designed around legislators and constituency funds and Kashmiris feel they have the right to demand better schools and medical care. If voter turnout were to be an indicator of the ground situation in the state, the 2008 election ought to have settled it. The queues outside polling stations were fairly long then too. Take one example: in Handwara, from where separatist leader-turned-regular politician Sajjad Ghani Lone is contesting, the turnout has stayed in the 70 percent bracket over two elections: 71 percent in 2014 and 75 percent in 2008. If percentages were an indicator, the Valley would not have gone through one of its most turbulent phases in the summer of 2010, two years after a successful election in 2008. And let's not forget that the 2010 agitation-which started soon after the fake encounter in Machil-was being steered by the separatists. Hadn't we written off the separatists after the 2008 election too? For most of us sitting in Delhi, the separatists are 'anti-nationals', more so after the Narendra Modi government called off talks with Pakistan because the neighbour's high commissioner held meetings with the Hurriyat leaders. If the government at the Centre is indeed serious about resolving the Kashmir issue, it must first understand the difference between aspiration and alienation. Yes, the Kashmiris aspire for a better future through jobs, through better education facilities and through better healthcare but an election does not bring the alienated community any closer to the power centre in New Delhi. Too many promises have been made by too many prime ministers. Atal Bihari Vajpayee promised everything within the circle of humanity (insaniyat). PV Narasimha and Deve Gowda too, while speaking of autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir, had said, 'the sky is the limit.' More recently, after the 2010 agitation rocked the state, home minister P Chidamabaram set up a three member committee whose report was submitted but never acted on. If there is any azadi the Kashmiris want, it is from oppression: the oppression and high-handedness of the army and the paramilitary forces through whom the Center makes its presence felt. If Machil happened when the UPA was in power, Kashmir has already seen the killing of two young schoolboys in Budgam under the new Modi dispensation. Yes, in a first, the government was quick to regret the killings of the boys travelling in a Maruti car but that is only one small step towards alienated Kashmir. It would be real pity if the Center sat back after the conclusion of the elections with the view that the democratic process is the final cure. Too many governments have made the same mistake. The elections, in fact, are a window of opportunity. Gone are the days when the Kashmiris considered it an honour to shelter gun-wielding terrorists. If the Kashmiris have rejected anything-it is gun and the cycle of violence that spared hardly a home in the Valley. The governments led by Omar Abdullah in the state and Manmohan Singh at the Center, both failed the Kashmiris when they met stone pelters with bullets. A smart government will be one that reaches out in innovative ways. Else, the separatists are there. It will take half a 'Machil' for them to gain center-stage.