Kashmiris vote for solution to civic problems, defy separatists


Srinagar : A desire for good governance and solutions to their everyday problems held sway over Kashmiris as they turned up in large numbers for the second phase polling, defying a boycott call of separatists, in Jammu and Kashmir Sunday.

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While the mainstream politicians are upbeat about the high voter turnout, separatists said it was an “illegitimate voting” and cannot be held as peoples’ “yes to status quo” over the Kashmir issue.

“I am satisfied with the turnout. People are voting for good governance,” Omar Abdullah, National Conference president, told IANS.

Omar Abdullah, whose fate in the polls was sealed in EVMs Sunday in the Ganderbal constituency, said he was not 100 percent sure of his victory “but Insha Allah (god willing) when votes are counted Dec 28, I will be the winner”.

Muslim separatists had intensified their anti-election campaign after 64 percent of voters cast ballot Nov 17 in the first phase of the staggered elections to the state assembly which end Dec 24.

Many of them jailed, the separatist leaders have been asking Kashmiris to stay away from the election process till the Kashmir issue was resolved.

But on Sunday, brisk voting was recorded as people gathered in large numbers outside polling stations to exercise their franchise in round two of the assembly elections.

By 4 p.m., when the voting closed, officials said, tentatively 45 percent of the voters had cast their ballots both in Ganderbal and Kangan – the two constituencies of the Kashmir Valley that went to polls Sunday. But the voting was significantly higher in four constituencies in the Jammu region.

Separatist leader Sajjad Gani Lone, chairman of the Peoples Conference, said, it was “too early to rush to any conclusion”.

“Five more phases are yet to go,” he said.

“India portrays these elections as a substitute for the resolution of the Kashmir issue,” Lone said, adding, “which is not the case.”

“Kashmir is an issue and needs a resolution. Participating in the electoral process impedes resolution, but this is not the verdict favouring the status quo on Kashmir.”

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

“These are illegitimate (elections),” he said, and asked how could anyone portray these polls as “an overwhelming yes to status quo on Kashmir?”.

However, analysts here say separatist leaders have not read the writing on the wall.

“Kashmiris have and have consciously de-linked the larger issue from their civic necessities, and the writing is on the wall for separatists to read,” said Bashir Manzar, editor of an English daily published from Srinagar.

“They (separatists) should not embarrass themselves furthermore by giving excuses like polling was under the gun and it’s bogus voting. Kashmiris are voting for jobs, electricity and daily life needs… things that cannot wait till the Kashmir issue is resolved,” Manzar said.

If polls were held in the presence of huge security forces, the same number of police and paramilitary troops was here when hundreds and thousands rallied in favour of freedom just three months ago,” the editor stressed.

“Nobody stopped the people then and nobody is coercing them to vote now.”

Said Raof Rasool, a peace and conflict teacher in a university: “The message is simple and clear. Don’t link poll politics with larger Kashmir issue. Election boycott has served nothing to Kashmiris.”

“In three months of Governor’s Rule, people here had no access to administration and by electing representatives to the assembly, at least they will have somebody to listen to them,” Rasool said.

Ashok Khajuria, state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, said: “It’s a victory of democracy. This turnout will reflect in the coming phases.”