Jammu and Kashmir surprised itself on Monday with a 55 per cent voter turnout even as thousands of people – including those seeking freedom from India – cast ballots in a new turn in the region’s saga.
<b1>The day showed the Kashmiri people’s seeming resolve to look beyond the gun and participate in elections, even as dissenters. And people boycotted it in large numbers but in a peaceful way – all of that adding up possibly to the biggest opportunity for peace on the road ahead in Kashmir.
The numbers came despite the fact that anti-India sentiment runs deep in most parts of the Valley after months of bloody clashes and protests. They were tempered by a few facts: the percentage includes voting figures in parts of Ladakh and Jammu regions as well; this is only the first of seven phases; and many voters said they were voting for good local governance, not expressing their faith in Indian rule.
If there was anything missing in the voting, it was fear. Militant groups had promised not to carry out attacks. The presence of security forces — blamed in the past for coercing voters — was minimal as well.
It was a continuation of the process started in 2002 in parliamentary elections, when Kashmiris saw that election-rigging, one of the final provocations for the militancy in the late 1980s, was a thing of the past. “I want peace. I have seen so much here that very little matters to me now. I want good roads and water supply and electricity,” said first-time voter Khalid Mohammed, a Class 10 dropout who sells cosmetics. “I don’t want my mother to walk four kilometres to fetch water.”