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For azadi from bad governance

The voter turnout suggests that Kashmiris want ‘real’ things, not empty promises.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2008 20:06 IST

It may be still too early to say, but a quiet, ungoaded revolution is underway in Jammu and Kashmir. The unprecedented high turnout in the first phase of elections in the state may be part of a large, unfolding, variegated picture. But for many of us in ‘mainland India’ — including those in government in New Delhi — the 55 per cent turnout for elections in ten seats in J&K in the face of inclement weather, shows that there is much more than the pulls and pushes between autonomy and azadi that matter to the people in the state. True, the impressive turnout includes constituencies in Ladakh and Jammu and there are six more phases of the assembly polls to go. The lack of popular noise, however, against the process of sending people’s representatives to the Assembly in Srinagar has sent out a strong message all across the country and, indeed, the world: Kashmir is voting for and against issues that any other state in India votes for and against. In other words, without coercion or micro-management, the people of J&K, like electorates everywhere else, want their say in matters that affect their everyday life.

Considering that much was made about the whole Amarnath Yatra land fiasco and the genuine sparks of protests that followed, one can be forgiven for expecting a return to the ‘bad old days’ of large-scale boycotts and ‘incentives’ provided by the security personnel for unenthusiastic voters. While it would be wrong to assume that such contentious issues have been finally buried, the fact of the matter stares at the faces of sceptics and enthusiasts alike: Kashmiris are voting for a better life — the bijli, sadak, paani issues that bedevil all of us.

The gold standard for ‘free-and-fair elections’ in J&K has been the 2002 assembly polls. Both domestically as well as internationally, it was the first major assurance that Kashmir is not a ‘strange’ place, only a battleground for those seeking to break away from India and those forcing the state to remain part of the country. If the morning shows the day, Monday’s turnout and the general sense of enthusiasm show that the people of Jammu and Kashmir want things to change in their backyard. It will be up to the new government to focus on these ‘real’ things and provide them.