Heavy poll turnout pushes Kashmir separatists into a corner (News Analysis)

November 25th, 2008 - 10:53 am ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Nov 25 (IANS) Where do the unexpectedly high voting percentages in the first two phases of elections in Jammu and Kashmir leave the separatist leadership that had called for a boycott?That question could get increasingly important for separatists in the Kashmir valley if the next few phases of the assembly elections go the way of the first two.

It may be too early to predict the turnout across the state as the elections will go on till Dec 24, but it is clear that many Kashmiris in this state of over 7.5 million people who are in the vortex of a sovereignty dispute for the last six decades till now have defied the separatists and voted for better governance and a solution to their daily problems. Better roads, jobs and civic amenities are what they want.

The second phase Sunday in two constituencies in the valley and four in Jammu saw a voter turnout of over 65 percent, one percent more than the first round percentage of 64.

Analysts say the figures have come as a shock to separatist forces, raising many a query for them to comprehend and answer.

“Even neutral observers and journalists, who had predicted a lacklustre election process after the summer agitation against India, are surprised by the voters’ enthusiasm,” said Raouf Rasool, who teaches conflict studies in the Islamic University of Science and Technology.

“It is time the separatist leadership understood certain realities,” Rasool told IANS.

“The concepts of freedom and sub-nationalism are obviously very inspiring propositions for all, and people of Kashmir are certainly no exception,” he added, pointing out that separatists had been unable to make freedom an attainable dream.

The separatist leadership, said retired schoolteacher M.Y. Qadiri, had gone the whole hog to oppose the elections by confusing the voting with its larger objective — “the political solution to the Kashmir dispute”.

“They don’t understand that Kashmiris, particularly from the rural areas, are voting to ensure basic amenities for them, which separatists cannot guarantee,” Qadiri told IANS.

“The separatist leaders have confused and blurred the demarcation between civic amenities and larger political ambitions,” agreed political science scholar Irshad Ahmed Shah.

“By playing mere poll politics, separatists have invited unnecessary defeat. If they really mean business, they must lie back and try to iron out their confusions,” is how Aijaz Khan, a former militant who gave up arms to become a businessman, put it.

Separatist leaders - many of them jailed - have been urging the people to stay away from the election process in defiance against Indian rule in the state. They view the turnout issue differently.

“It is too early to rush to any conclusion. Five more phases are yet to go,” Sajjad Gani Lone of the Peoples Conference told IANS.

“India portrays these elections as a substitute for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Participating in the electoral process impedes a resolution, but this is not the verdict favouring the status quo on Kashmir.”

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, said that the elections were held under “occupation, detentions, curfews and crackdowns”.

“These are illegitimate (elections),” he said.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at s.kashani@ians.in)

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