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Count the votes for democracy

The outcome of the by-elections in Jammu and Kashmir proves that the hardy plant of democracy survives despite the jehadi challenge.

india Updated: Apr 28, 2006 23:59 IST

The outcome of the by-elections in Jammu and Kashmir proves that the hardy plant of democracy survives despite the jehadi challenge. The expected victory of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, the poor showing of the People’s Democratic Party and the resurfacing of the National Conference indicate that so far as mainstream politics go, there is healthy inter-party competition in all parts of the state. Though not often apparent at first sight, elections in India have a paradigm-shifting effect. Hopefully, the same will be true of this by-poll that saw a 54 per cent turnout in the three segments in the Valley, and 71 per cent in Bhaderwah in the Doda district.

In the 2002 state assembly elections, there was considerable regional variation, with the Jammu and Ladakh regions polling around 60 to 70 per cent, Poonch-Rajauri around 50 per cent and the Valley only 28 per cent. In this by-election, polling has varied in the Valley between 66 per cent in Rafiabad and 40 per cent in Sangrama, figures that are impressive anyway. Retailing these numbers is important, even though all of us know that democracy is much more than the right to vote. This is because in J&K’s troubled times, there is no dearth of groups and people claiming to speak for ‘the people’. What the by-election has done is to prick the vanities of some of them. Separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the People’s Democratic Front leader Shabbir Shah ran a boycott campaign and were detained by the police on several occasions, but they clearly failed to make any impact.

In our estimation, the only fair measure of what the people want can come through a secret ballot, and an electoral process that offers voters a choice. Looking at the figures for the four constituencies -- each won by a different political formation, and all but the Bhaderwah seat strongly contested -- serves to confirm the deep roots electoral politics has taken in J&K.