The recently concluded state Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir brought to light a few facts.
First, it has to be conceded by even the most sceptic of all, that the elections were free and fair, and were not excessively influenced by local security apparatus and intelligence agencies. Ample proof is evident in the fact that the party in power at New Delhi, despite putting up more than 30 candidates in Kashmir Valley, could not secure more than 2.3% of the popular vote in the region, and its popular vote fell from 32.6% in the Parliament elections in May 2014, to 23% in the Assembly elections. The party in power at New Delhi would have had all the security and government apparatus at its disposal to influence the outcome, that did not happen.
Second, the ability of the ‘performing’ representatives to keep their seats. Best exemplified by the Langate-based Er Rasheed, who has tirelessly worked over the past six years, since his surprise victory in 2008, to highlight issues of human rights’ violations by the soldiers, corruption in the administration, Afzal Guru’s unjust hanging, and also continuously advocating the peaceful and permanent resolution of the Kashmir issue, through means beyond elective exercises. His is a grand success, since his honesty is unquestionable, and he has no allies in any major parties of Kashmir, who would have financially supported him. He won this election hands down, on his own laurels. Some would also point to the success of Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami in Kulgam, for the fourth consecutive time, or the victory of Hakim Yaseen. However, their success is credit not only to their work on the ground but also the ability of their respective parties to back them.
Third, the beginnings of ‘voter maturity,’ in Kashmir. Unlike in the past, when senior state party leaders could sing different tunes in Delhi, Jammu, and Srinagar, the access to information across print, electronic, and social media, empowered voters in Kashmir, unlike ever before. Facebook and Twitter did not make the impression that they made across India during the high-decibel, no-holds-barred, campaign of the BJP during the Parliament elections in 2014. But a few videos highlighting the hypocrisy and lies of Kashmiri politicians were bound to have had some impact. But what is most impressive was the Kashmiri voters’ antagonism toward the BJP. The high electoral turnout may have resulted from this one emotion. It appeared, for the first time ever, that voters were not seduced by power, money, or doles, but by their genuine needs. Otherwise why would the incumbent CM loose? Or many previous ministers who have lots of cash ready to dole out to potential winners?
Fourth, the inability of major India centric parties to make a dent in local politics in Kashmir. The success of the BJP in Jammu can be attributed to the marginalisation of the minorities in Jammu, the unnecessary ‘hyper-bole’ on the recent border skirmishes, and the polarisation of voters in the Chenab Valley for the first time in 67 years. BJP has shown itself to be a party that will do ‘anything’ to gain power. Unfortunately for them, it did not work in Kashmir, where they were counting on the ‘boycott’ and ‘migrant voters’ to turn things around. Most of all, the BJP will know now, that their optimistic religious chauvinism, is unlikely to make inroads for long, and they will have to produce results to gain the confidence of their own voters, and will have to abandon rigid postures to gain traction with minorities. Kashmir has taught the BJP an important lesson.
Most importantly, it showed that the people of Kashmir, as before, have voted for the daily bread and butter issues as also to lift the AFSPA, a draconian blot on Indian democracy, and bring about a slow, measured, return to pre-militancy levels of militarisation. If anyone cannot see that, then unfortunately, they are blind.