Successful completion of the first two phases of the five phased assembly elections underway in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is indicating that the electoral process has come a long-way from the almost total boycott in 1996 to the present turn out of about 70-72% in the two rounds so far.
This unprecedented turn out in the Assembly polls, in the largest democracy of the world, that is India, where free and fair elections have been an article of faith, is even better than the last one in 2008. This has been despite the boycott calls given by pro-Pak Kashmiri separatists, which ironically has only resulted in the Kashmir valley itself witnessing a polling percentage far higher than the national average during the May 2014 General Elections in India.
Youth and women have voted in large numbers, notwithstanding the attempts by Pakistan based handlers to infiltrate terrorists across the line of Control into Jammu and Kashmir. This voting pattern shows an increasing realization in the valley that the electoral process is the best route to empowerment, economic progress and stability for the people of Kashmir. The example of the unprecedented victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi led BJP in the general elections earlier this year has probably been an important factor in this “vote for change”, in Kashmir. It has dawned on the Kashmiri voters that they have had enough of Pak sponsored violence and being used by its proxy separatist organisations as pawns for the vested anti-India lobbies operating out of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The high voter turn-out is an indication of the expectation and belief that it is time for the masses of Kashmir to chalk out their new destiny with mainstream India, which is undergoing a multi-faceted transformation under the new BJP led government in terms of economy, politics and foreign policy. This is why the campaigning undertaken by Prime Minister Modi to project issues of economic development, commercial activities, infrastructure modernisation and integration of the Kashmiris including their diaspora abroad has yielded electoral dividends. Modi knows that this verdict will not be about the simple arithmetic of election results, rather, it is a much wider and deep rooted commitment of integration, assimilation and prosperity ! That is why, in anticipation of what this verdict implies for the BJP, its leadership has already started chalking out constituency specific programme of activities to be pursued on the ground.
It is thus not surprising that the Pakistani politico-military establishment is seriously worried at this unprecedented outcome. The Pak Army / ISI is troubled because the results show a long-term trend of further assimilation of Kashmir into the Indian democratic matrix. This, undoubtedly, is a complete anathema to the efforts of the Pak establishment to keep the issue of Kashmir artificially alive, as a bilateral dispute and internationalise it through false propaganda.
The voter mandate which appears to be unfolding in Kashmir has rattled the Pak ISI and its jehadi assets indulging in cross-border terrorism there. The stakes for ISI were so high that they have pressed in their jehadi assets into carrying out all sorts of fidayeen attacks, including the latest one in Uri sector of Baramullah district today in which at least five terrorists and seven security personnel have already died. These audacious attempts to disrupt the elections have so far miserably failed, with voters remaining undeterred.
There are indications from different quarters of the Kashmiri diaspora in Europe and the Gulf about their acknowledging the elections going on in Kashmir as a tribute to Indian democracy and wisdom of Kashmiris. The social media chatter amongst these diasporic circles is buzzing with comparisons about the shameful absence of any democratic process, leave alone free and fair elections, in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, where the locals neither enjoy any genuine political rights nor are able to live with socio-economic dignity. Political commentators are subscribing that these elections have vindicated India’s principled stand of cancelling bilateral talks with Pakistan after latter’s insistence on projecting the separatist Hurriyat as being representative of the Kashmiri society. Hurriyat’s call for boycott of these elections has been overwhelmingly defied and rejected by the voters.
These elections are also proving to be an endorsement of Prime Minister Modi’s clarity of thought and determination of purpose that the welfare of Kashmir can only be ensured by integrating its people completely into India’s secular & democratic fabric and developmental process, rather than offering them election-time special dispensations which would thereafter continue to only deny their empowerment as the real stakeholders in the growth and development of Kashmir.
These elections, equally significantly, also vindicate the Indian government’s policy of zero-tolerance towards Pak sponsored terrorism and interference in the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir.