Militancy No Longer An Issue In Jammu And Kashmir Elections

4 December 2014
Mr. Ghazanfur Butt

Srinagar: The first and second phase of Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir saw over 70% of the people casting their votes inspite of the cold weather and the boycott call by separatists. The trend in the next three phases is likely to remain the same. The elections have reaffirmed the faith of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in democracy. The state had free and fair elections in 1996, 2002 and 2008. After the spell of militancy and governor's rule which concluded in 1996. What is clear is that while some areas in the valley were affected by the separatists call for a boycott in the last three elections, the people have ignored their call during the present elections. What distinguished the present elections from the earlier ones is the campaigning based on issues that affected the people. To start with, the National Conference Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, suggested that the elections should be postponed, as the state has not recovered from the damage caused by unprecedented floods this year. The Election Commission visited the state and met all political parties, and all except for the National Conference, argued that the elections should be held as scheduled. What could be the issues on which the elections were to be fought? Militancy, proxy-war by Pakistan? No, they were not the issues. People thought that Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which gives a separate status to the state, might be an election issue considering the controversy over the statement made by the Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Dr. Jitendra Singh. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who campaigned in the state, did not refer to Article 370, but concentrated on development of the state. Even the BJP campaigners called the amendment of Article 370 an 'expired issue' Narendra Modi in his rallies in the state, focused on development and eliminating corruption. He said that if all the money that was allocated by the Centre had been distributed to the people, they would have been the richest in the country. He promised to root out corruption, which he said was indulged in by two families in the state, hinting at the Abdullah family and the family of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The security forces had their own contribution to ensure free and fair elections. Their credibility was increased following the decision to court martial the guilty officers and jawans for the Machil encounter, and also the nine security force personnel involved in the recent killing of two young boys who were driving a car and did not stop when signaled to do so. Omar Abdullah, who has been urging the Central Government to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or amend it for the last many years, thought it could be an election issue. But it has ceased to be so. The Bharatiya Janata Party has campaigned that if it is elected - with a target of 44 - it would not need the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to govern the state. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the frontline separatist leader, called for the boycott of elections. However, when the campaigning commenced many felt that if there is a boycott, the Kashmiri Pandits, who would be casting their votes for the Kashmir seats might get their candidate elected. Geelani revised his stand and softened his boycott call. One has also to watch the future of Sajjad Lone, who has again decided to contest, in spite of his defeat in the 2008 elections. His father, Gulam Nabi Lone, was assassinated by militants in 2002 when he made statements in favour of participating in elections. Sajjad Lone's statement praising the Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his meeting in Delhi, one must watch, might have had an impact . Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who was the chief minister for three years in alliance with the Congress from 2002 to 2005, has been talking about his achievements: the opening of the road to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and increased trade from across the Line of Control. He has also been talking about the 'peace initiatives' of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. He fulfilled his ambition to become chief mnister of the sate in 2002. This would be the turn of his daughter - Mehbooba Mufti. The Congress Party, which was part of the coalition government headed by Omar Abdullah, has been campaigning hard in the state. There has been no seat sharing with the former ally, the National Conference. Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was the chief minister between 2005 and 2008, hopes to take credit for many of the schemes started during his tenure. At stake is the future of sitting Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. He has changed his constituency from Ganderbal to Sonwar and Beerwah to have a 'safe' seat. But the National Conference, which is fighting anti-incumbency, is missing Dr Farooq Abdullah, who is ill and has been issuing statements from London. Issues like Article 370, revocation of AFSPA, have become non-issues. Whatever be the results, the present elections would be known for the vigorous campaigning on 'real issues' that affect the people. And, the Central Government will have to give serious thought to those issues. The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Ghazanfur Butt.