Srinagar : Terming the huge turnout in Jammu and Kashmir elections as a “setback”, separatist leader Sajjad Lone Friday said he and his colleagues advocating secession needed to introspect.
“The verdict of the people is supreme. May I, with all humility, state that no individual, no party or intellectual is bigger than the people. We have all along advocated that we represent the sentiment. And sentiment resides in the people,” Lone said in Srinagar’s posh Baghaat area, where he was under house arrest for some two months as the staggered balloting took place.
Lone and senior separatist leaders Yaseen Malik, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani spearheaded the anti-election campaign urging people to boycott the staggered assembly polls that ended Dec 24.
However, much to the surprise of many, including the separatist leaders, Kashmiris voted in huge numbers. According to officials the turnout was 63 percent – the highest since the separatist campaign began in 1989.
Lone argued that the turnout needed to be evaluated in the context of an “uneven playfield”.
“Democracy is a holistic concept and not partial. Respecting the freedom of expression, the right to assemble and the right to dissent – to protest non-violently – is an integral part of the democratic ethos.
“The government showed a selective acceptance of democracy. Political leaders pursuing the boycott call were jailed or put under house arrest. Undeclared curfew, thwarting of peaceful marches and the armed siege of Kashmir have eroded the credibility of the voting percentage,” he said.
“But,” he added, “the reality is that a fair proportion of the people did vote.”
Asking his separatist colleagues to introspect and understand the mood of the people, Lone castigated some fellow leaders who he said were expressing “their disapproval through statements and newspaper columns by depicting the people of Kashmir in poor light”.
“If a significant number of people have not adhered to the leadership’s boycott appeal, it highlights the need for introspection. The people have conveyed a message and a capable leadership should decipher it, rather than shoot the messenger.”
He insisted, however, that the vote “isn’t a vote for India”. People, he said, had voted to tackle day-to-day problems, delinking the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
“We do not see the voter turnout as a defeat. It can at best be described as a setback. Every movement has seen highs and lows. All great victories are born in learning lessons from the setbacks.”