At a polling booth in north Kashmir, a long queue of voters waited eagerly for their turn beneath a large graffiti on a wall that read “election boycott”, portraying the prevailing mood in the valley.
The voter turnout statistic captured the mood as much. By the time the polls closed, 71% of the electorate had braved the inclement weather to cast their votes in bold defiance of separatists who have given a poll boycott call this time as well.
However, separatist leaders such as Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have sought to draw a distinction between the elections and the resolution of the Kashmir issue by suggesting that the high turnout has more to do with day-to-day issues.
“Voting in elections doesn’t mean that people of Kashmir have abandoned the path of right to self-determination. Till date, ten elections have been held in the state but the aspiration for freedom among people has not changed,” he said.
But mainstream political parties are upbeat. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti said the voting trends indicate that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have decided to vote for a single party government and bury the unstable coalition culture in the state. Her party is seen as one of the favourites to win the elections.
Her rival and J-K chief minister Omar Abdullah exuded confidence that his party National Conference would be the beneficiary of the “heart warming” high turnout. However, he sounded a word of caution for “armchair analysts sitting in studios of TV channels” that it would premature to call the high voter participation as “defeat of separatism”.
Besides, many new parties having emerged on the state’s political horizon in the run-up to the polls, the 2014 elections are also witnessing the participation of a large number of independent candidates in the contest. This has been widely attributed to attempts by some political parties to fragment the voters.
Handwara, from where former separatist Sajjad Lone is contesting, witnessed a polling percentage of 71%, indicating the enthusiasm among the voters. Lone had created a political buzz last month when he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.