The results of the seven-phased Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Elections are finally out, along with the verdict – Democracy has won. As in the words of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, it doesn’t matter who emerged victorious in the elections; what matters is that the people of Jammu and Kashmir expressed their faith in India’s democratic institutions by turning out in large numbers during the polls despite boycott calls.
Elections are not new to India – the world’s largest democracy. This year too, a number of states went to polls, like Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh etc. But the polls in J&K were the most crucial one, considering the fact that the state has been facing years of unrest and was on the boil only few months back over the issue of Amarnath land transfer. In fact, a democratically-elected government collapsed in the wake of violent protests over the same issue when PDP did a volte face.
The state was due to go to polls at the end of 2008, but the tensions in J&K post Amarnath land transfer issue, collapse of government and imposition of Governor’s Rule had made it difficult to even imagine holding elections on schedule. However, the Centre’s determination and the Election Commission’s belief that it can hold the polls in time made democracy triumph in Jammu and Kashmir, but not without people’s will.
The single-most crucial factor why the just concluded elections in J&K are being dubbed as the ‘most credible ever’ in the troubled region (in the words of many, including Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami) is that people turned out in large, unexpected numbers to cast their ballot. Separatists – who describe themselves the real representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir – had given a call for boycotting the elections. But the people, especially those in the Kashmir Valley, came out to vote and showed the separatists as well as those in Pakistan their real standing with an over 60% voter turnout overall. In 2002, the voter turnout registered was way less – 44%.
While the large voter turnout does not imply that the people of J&K have given up their call for greater autonomy, it does show that the general belief and attitude has changed in the state – they are now willing to work in the Indian democratic set up, take part in the affairs of the state, and prioritise development and good governance over other emotionally-driven issues. They have matured, like the voters in Delhi who preferred development over anything else, and understood that issues like ‘bijli-sadak-pani’ cannot be kept on the backburner for ever in search of something they already have – ‘voice’. If the right to choose and elect who eventually rules them is not an expression of one’s self, then what is?
The J&K vote was not just for development and good governance but also for peace – something that has eluded the state for years. What’s remarkable is that this year’s elections were the most peaceful one that the state has seen since the start of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir in late 1980s. No sane human on this earth wants to live in war zone; everybody wants peace. And the so-called representatives of Kashmiri people, the separatists and their Pakistani ‘masters’ have given the ‘awaam’ of Jammu and Kashmir nothing but a life full of conflicts, trouble, disillusionment etc.
In a clear thumbs-down to separatists and those in Pakistan, people of J&K chose the moderate National Conference over the extremism of People’s Democratic Party. And the former looks all set to form the government with the Congress – the mainstream Indian party, meaning separatists will now find it harder to push their agenda in the state which is increasingly getting disenchanted with them.
Over two decades of insurgency has brought no improvement in the life of a common man in J&K than last six years of a democratic government. Over the past few years, the people of the state have seen development in the form of rail links, power projects; massive surge in tourism, aided by a marked drop in militancy etc. They have realised the true potential of the ‘Indian democracy’ – despite being plagued by corruption, dirty politics, selfish interests, it does give the people the power and right to choose and decide who they want to be ruled by. And not just the right to choose and decide but stand up and take part in the electoral process, thereby earning the right to rule by winning the elections. In other words, it gives people the opportunity to chalk out their own destiny. What more can an ‘ordinary’ man ask for?
Let’s hope these elections prove to be a milestone in Jammu and Kashmir’s history, and help usher in an era of peace and stability in the state.