The fallout of the high turnout in the Jammu and Kashmir elections, at 66%, has been that major political parties have eaten into the legitimacy of separatists rooting for rejection and boycott.
Except for separatist Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and hardline Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Geelani, the moderate Hurriyat faction of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) took a guarded approach to elections.
Though the Hurriyat faction and the JeI desisted from launching an anti-poll campaign, they stuck to the united Hurriyat’s constitution that “polls are not substitute for plebiscite”. Ahead of the polls, senior JeI leaders had asked people to go by their conscience.
Hurriyat chairman Farooq may publicly describe the high voter turnout as “fallout of lack of governance and vote for grievances and not aspirations”, many constituents are now in favour of a debate on boycott.
In fact, United Jehad Council supremo Syed Salahuddin has asked separatists to mull over polls.
“Militant leadership believes participation is betrayal with the sacrifices. But whatever the decision is taken by the Hurriyat over the issue, we will abide by it,” said Salahuddin.
The fast emerging trend in Kashmir is that people largely rejected boycott politics except for a few separatist bastions like Srinagar.
Insiders in the separatist camp accept being on the back foot after large-scale participation of people in the election, and admit they have to redraw the strategy.
It is still unclear whether the new strategy means warming up to democratic challenges, but has certainly left the door ajar for electoral politics.
“So upbeat was electoral environment that separatists, though gave a call for boycott, did not pursue it seriously. Extension of electoral space is certainly challenging for separatists. If nothing else, one of the tools of their politics has lost its relevance,” said Rekha Chowdhary, the former head of department of political science, Jammu University, and a known columnist.
She attributed the shrinking space for separatists to the 2002 Assembly polls. “Political developments post 2002 period helped in the extension of the electoral space. Emergence of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that ended hegemony of the National Conference (NC) made electoral politics highly competitive with other parties also joining. No more seen as manipulated from above, this process has gained greater credibility,” she said.