The assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir have been announced in an extraordinary situation. Guns are down, yet some of the major political parties are less than enthusiastic about the polls.
The elections are being held at a critical juncture in the state’s history, with the communal and religious divide having touched virtually all aspects of the polity.
Communication between the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu region has broken down. Traders in the Valley are boycotting their counterparts in Jammu. And an unspoken fear haunts Muslim employees on the eve of the seat of the government being shifted to Jammu, the winter capital, from November 10.
Within the Valley, there are protests calling for azadi and a complete shutdown and clashes recently marred the Prime Minister’s visit to Srinagar.
This is also the first time that an election is being held in as many as seven phases. Until 1987, it used to be a single-day affair. In 1996 and 2002, when militancy was at its peak, the polls were held in four phases.
“These are signs of disturbed times,” separatist leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq told Hindustan Times.
People’s Democratic Party patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed wondered why the polls are being held in so many phases.
Polling in Srinagar district, which has generally boycotted elections, will take place in the last phase on December 24, five weeks after the polls begin on November 17. So is the case with Jammu and Samba districts, which were hit by prolonged violence over the Amarnath land transfer issue.
This indicates the Election Commission’s assessment that voters in these three districts may be prompted by better polling trends in the rural areas.
Hopefully, elections this time will be different from the last two in 1996 and 2002. Militants are not around and with such a large media presence in the Valley, the security forces are in no position to repeat 1996.
At the end, what will matter is how many people came out to participate in the elections.