It’s been a triumph of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir.
The fractured verdict is striking in its rejection of armed militancy and terrorism as ways of meeting popular aspirations. Yet, much now depends on how New Delhi and the parties that come to power in J&K build on this.
The BJP’s spectacular gains in Jammu and the People’s Democratic Party’s expanded base in the Valley — notably South Kashmir where it mobilised the separatist Jamaat-e-Islami cadres orphaned by Syed Ali Shah Gilani’s poll-boycott — may cause anxiety.
“Monopoly of the opposition space by either or both could trigger religious polarization within Jammu and across regions,” said a political scientist, requesting anonymity.
He considered outside support for the NC as the Congress’s best option. In helping prop up a regime without a share in power, the party leading the government at the Centre would come across as respecting the mandate, thereby acquiring a stake on either side of the political divide.
The call, indeed, is difficult for the Congress that holds the key to government formation in view of the BJP’s pariah status and the PDP’s credibility crisis compounded by its flirtations with the JI cadres. If it joins the NC-led combine, the Congress might end up replicating 1987, when their short-lived alliance allowed separatists a free run of the vacant Opposition space.
As brought out by the Amarnath controversy, one political misstep can deeply endanger national interests in J&K. India’s diplomatic gains from the electorate’s repeat rebuff to militancy— after the watershed 2002 polls — would be far from realised in the absence of a credible regime capable of efficient, inclusive governance.
The participatory nature of the elections was for New Delhi an opportunity to tick off world powers seeking to link Kashmir to the global fight against terror. "We now can move from calling Kashmir an integral part of our country to empowering its people as citizens of India," said Prof. Rekha Chowdhary of Jammu University.
Chowdhary’s added that the Kashmiri rejection of violence should not be misconstrued as dilution of the separatist constituency: “They have buoyed the PDP in the hope that it will better negotiate and promote their interests through classical political means."
An MEA official endorsed her prognosis de-linking separatism from militancy. “These elections prove that terrorism emanating from Pakistan isn’t Kashmir specific. The threat is self-sustaining. A placatory approach will embolden its perpetrators into broadening their agenda."
Simply put, the US bid to link Kashmir’s resolution with the fight against terror is based on facile logic. But to stand up and be heard, New Delhi has to deliver governance that addresses alienation and enhances the quality of life in J&K.