Wednesday , 12 August 2020
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Game Change in Kashmir

Today 15 Assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir will go to polls in the first of five phases that will be completed on December 20. Election of a BJP government at the Centre has altered equations in a state that was ruled by a National Conference-Congress in coalition. That agreement broke down and the two parties will face the electorate alone. Although the state is viewed as a troubled area, the people of Kashmir, like any other, are desperately looking for a solution to their day-to-day problems. They, like the rest of India, have aspirations that state governments have not been able to solve. Their faith in democracy has not been shaken and this has been proven by the turnout in past elections. The shadow of terrorism and separatism has hovered over the state, but in 2008 about 63 per cent of the electorate turned out to exercise their franchise. The panchayat polls in 2011 saw a mammoth turnout of 83 per cent and the May Lok Sabha elections brought out 51 per cent of voters. These figures fly in the face of separatism and confirm that Kashmiris want a resolution within the framework of the Constitution. This change in attitude is partly because people have grown tired with terrorism and no longer see it as means to a solution. In 2001 the number of violent deaths peaked at 4,500. Since then the figure has dwindled to 375 in 2009 and 134 this year, a strong sign that peace is returning to the state. Figures for education, employment and tourism have also improved. The separatists have called for a boycott of the elections, but experience has proved that the average Kashmiri generally ignores this call. The only time separatist leaders have sway is when they speak the language of peace, development and progress. Peaceful polls are a prerequisite for any solution, but it is just one factor. The Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments ensured peaceful polling and Modi also has to prove that his government can do the same. The BJP hopes to increase its tally in the Assembly and be in a position to either form government of act as kingmaker. Modi has succeeded in presenting himself as a person with whom Kashmiris can do business. His focus on governance and delivery of services and growth are factors that are going to influence voter mind. No wonder, the BJP appears to present a strong challenge to other contenders for power in the state.

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