The successful completion of the 7-phase Assembly elections in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) shows that change has come to the state echoing what Barack Obama said about his victory in the US presidential election. This victory of democracy augurs well for India not only in the sense that it has heralded a new era but also in that the people have opted for a political solution through the ballot, not the bullet. Indeed, over 60 per cent of the electorate took part in the election, ignoring the separatists' call for boycott. Congress (I) chief, Sonia Gandhi has rightly remarked that it really did not matter which political party won the election, but the important thing was that the democratic process gained traction in J&K. The message from the Valley is loud and clear -people have wholeheartedly accepted Indian democracy and rejected the separatists who have been waging war on their behalf. There is a message to the Hurriyat Conference leaders that their current agenda needs changes in the changing politics of the state.
The faith in participatory democracy is the first sign of people returning to peaceful way of coexistence, rather than violence as means to score political gains. The high voter turnout underlines the fact that the policies of secessionists are negated, as people are tired of living under non-stop violent state. They want peace, and peace is where rule of law under a democratic government is. People are also disillusioned by the passionate call for Azadi, as they can feel as much freedom under Indian dominance as they would love to. Also, they realize how and why Pakistan has been dragging them into the quagmire of death and destruction in the name of secession. Above all, the ambiguous political plans of the separatists make no sense for a political solution at all.
Second, by choosing democratic government the people have opted for development, rather than conflict, violence and bloodshed that have taken a heavy toll of their social and economic development. In comparison to other states, J&K lags far behind on the development front with tourism, the backbone of Valley's economy, badly hit over the years. Hopes of economic and political stability that could be revived under an able government have been kindled once again. A genuine development can be possible only when there is a complete end to the violent ways that people have opted for in this election.
Third, since the Government of India has been seriously pursuing anti-terror measures in the Valley, the militants have been marginalized and quarantined, paving the way for a more terror-free environment. About 15 long years of the violent state of affairs have made the common people realize that there is more scope for peaceful existence under a democratic government than in responding to the bloody call for secession. Above all, the people, over all these years, have found themselves at the receiving end and pushed to the brink of brutal living at the hands of the militants and the security forces; hence, they preferred change for a peaceful and prosperous Kashmir.
Fourth, the people's participation in large numbers left the separatists wondering as to what went wrong with their agenda and why. Neither the passionate speeches of Mirwaiz Omar Farooq nor the religious appeals of Syed Ali Shah Geelani had any impact on the people. The high turnout in the elections also shows that people ventured out to vote despite the attempts to persuade them to keep away - they defied terrorists as well as separatists. The high point was that incidents of violence were few and no forcible disruption of the voting took place. The Amarnath shrine issue might well have its dual impacts - it paved the way for the BJP to capture 11 seats and it helped in convincing the people of the Valley to counter the BJP via ballot, as their non-participation would have had a larger impact on the overall political scenario of the state.
Lastly, the rising waves of terrorism in Pakistan have had a deep impact on the people of J&K since they have been misled and misread the call for a separate Kashmir as a genuine movement for azadi, which, over time, turned out to be an anti-Indian stance, and which prompted the militants groups to indulge in mindless terror attacks. Growing insecurity and instability in Pakistan vis-a-vis the rapid rise of India coupled with weak leadership from the Hurriyat Conference leaders turned the tide in favour of a democratic government.
Now, the onus is on the governments - both central as well as state - to share responsibilities in order to ensure the rights of the people, including those of Kashmiri Pandits displaced by the insurgency, to achieve a lasting solution. New Delhi, in close cooperation with Omar Abdullah, needs to push forward the development agenda and bring normalcy back to the troubled state in addition to healing the wounds of those who have suffered. Indeed, a greater economic and developmental agenda would help the state on to the path of progress. People have opted for democracy and now it is the turn of the leaders to seize this opportunity.