Democracy 1, Terrorism 0

…in Indian Kashmir

Given half a chance, people will exercise their right to vote, especially if what is at stake are issues such as roads, electricity, living conditions and all those mundane things that are part of daily life. And that is exactly what a lot of people in Indian Kashmir did last week. In several parts of the state, including and especially those under the sway of separatist militants, voter turnouts exceeded 70 percent!

Soon after elections in Kashmir, there is the usual debate of whether voter turnout is a proxy for the a pro-Indian sentiment in the valley. That is a moot point. What is important is that electoral empowerment, especially at the lowest level, throws up a strong challenge to self-professed separatist leaders, of both the terrorist and the political varieties. The challenge is not just one of proving their popularity, it is also about their ability to deliver the goods. It remains for the central and state governments to go that extra mile in ensuring that the civic councillors get every help they need in bolstering their legitimacy.

Almost 200,000 Kashmiri Pandits were disenfranchised because under the electoral law, anyone absent from a particular address for more than three years is struck off the rolls. But in what bears testimony to Kashmir’s intrinsic tolerance and syncretic culture, the election threw up winners from across all communities.

The inescapable conclusion is that these elections, just like those for the state assembly in 2002 and the national parliament in 2004, have put democracy (and self-determination) one up over the practice and proponents of jihad. Way to go!

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