The last few weeks saw frantic activity in Jammu & Kashmir on account of the local body polls. Even though results are yet to be announced, the voter turnout was on the expected lines, even ‘desired lines’ for a section called separatists. After all, they had given a call for boycott of the elections and people seemed to have obeyed the call, with just 8.3% electorate casting vote in the first phase of polls in Kashmir valley on October 8. In contrast, Kargil saw a huge 78% turning out to vote the same day. Even contrasting was the voter turnout in Jammu, which was also more than 70% in the first phase.
The elections to local bodies are being held after a gap of 13 years and in some places, like in Anantnag in South Kashmir, local body polls were held despite the fact that Parliamentary by-elections have not been held for the past two years. Is it optimism on part of the government, or brazenness? Well, brazen sounds more viable an option because optimism about Kashmir Valley took a dip long time back, when electoral corruption was given birth right after the dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953. Since then, a popular perception is that most elections have been rigged, to say the least. And the notion that the principal promoters of democracy in the state, especially those in administration, became principal supports of horse-trading became a folklore. Subsequently the belief that puppets, instead of real leaders, found their way to the governing chair added to the prevalent confusion. The downslide in terms of public confidence in governing institutions was the constant turnout for all those years.But is anybody bothered? Apparently not!
However, not looking backward this time, let us look forward. So, what is there to see? It is that in terms of national interests, Jammu & Ladakh have yet again shown the way to the Valley and, as always, the Valley has chosen to go the separate way. The history seems to be telling us something through the present, but is anybody listening? Even if one were to ignore the fact that the two regions of the State want to return to normalcy as far as local body elections are considered, what incentive does Kashmir see in boycotting polls this time? Apparently, none! But still the separatists’ boycott call received a positive response from the Valley. Stuck in a quagmire, isn’t it? Life in the Valley, unfortunately, has been a vicious cycle, ever since terrorism spread its wings, leaving dead bodies and delusional minds in its wake. And this cycle continues with all its ferocity even when the promise on the other end is that of a robust local body administrative system. But who wants local body administration when the bigger dream at disposal is that of ‘azadi’.
The supposed pallbearers of democracy in the state, the political parties, have once again shown a ‘thenga’ (straight-up thumb) to the people as well as the Central government. They have made it clear that they don’t care two hoots for the rule of the people. Instead, they care only about their own political bastion, one which supplies them with unlimited powers and unaccountable funds from the Centre.
Money is always a sore point while talking about politicians. And the state of J&K is no different. There is no doubt about the amount of funds released by the Centre towards the upkeep of the state finances. The amounts released year after year, apart from the regular grants and timely aid, are available on public platforms for all to see. But, somehow, the money doesn’t reflect in a justifiable proportion anywhere in the State. Be it the Valley, Jammu or Ladakh, development of public infrastructure is still an issue. That is a macro view of the situation, which demands a very detailed analysis too. So, where does the money go? In this regard, J&K is not unlike many other Indian states. Well, one major purpose of local body administration is to keep an account of where the money goes. At the local level, transparency is higher and so is accountability, as proved by Panchayat administrations elsewhere in the country. For 13 long years, this has been going unaccounted for and the results of local body polls will surely change things for better.
But, who is not happy with the changing scenario? The two major political parties, of course, National Conference and People’s Democratic Party. And, also the separatists, whose main bone of contention seems to be allowing people to have power. After all, if people get power to themselves, who is going to seek their ‘guidance?’ Is that the real fear that these so-called leaders of Kashmir are facing right now? This fear, which they, so loftily, disguise as their dissent against the Indian state! I think that is more the case because they are not so much against the idea of being a part of the Indian state, as they are of allowing people to have more of a say in the government or administration.
Just few days back, the news came in about polling for the second phase too. The six districts, where voting took place, massive voter turnout was recorded. Those who are familiar with the topography and infrastructure, especially of the remote areas within these districts, will understand the value of each vote cast yesterday. One should take heart in the fact that all these districts have recorded 70+ percentage of electorate coming out to cast their votes. Ramban, still one of the under-developed districts recorded almost 80% turnout. Similarly, Kishtwar also recorded close to 80% voters reaching the polling booths. People want roads, schools, hospitals, better access to cities and towns. Therefore, they have voted, because if you don’t use your vote today, you lose the right to complain tomorrow.
There are still two phases of polling left before the votes are counted on October 20th. Therefore, there is much to hope for and much less to worry about. If Jammu and Ladakh come out winners in these local body polls, maybe the Valley will also see a ray of hope in the darkness.