Modi's greatest contribution to Kashmir ballot
It was not too many years ago when most newspapers in India frontpaged a photograph showing a TV set placed prominently on a street outside a polling booth in Srinagar. An obnoxious looking gift tag "PRIZE FOR THE FIRST VOTER" ran boldly across the width of the photo.
It demonstrated less the audacity of the separatists in Kashmir and more the helplessness of the state. No surprise the voter turnout in the Kashmir Valley and the ordinary Indian's indifference to the Jammu and Kashmir elections used to compete with each other in most elections in the state.
Now compare it with the unprecedented scenes during the first phase of polling for the Kashmir assembly. One photo shows a sea of phiran-clad voters spread from end to end in more than five layers of endless queues outside a polling station in Bandipora. Yet another shows a similar crowd of thousands of cheerful women voters in long queues.
On the other side of the Pir Panjal too, it is the first time in the six decades of Indian elections that Kashmir elections are being discussed across the country with as much interest as the recent ballot in Haryana and Maharashtra. There is no doubt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been successful in rehabilitating Kashmir in the mind of the nation in a manner that was beyond anyone's imagination all these years.
This glowing enthusiasm of Kashmiri voters who logged an impressive over 71 percent attendance at the polling booths stands out in sharp contrast to the demoralization that starkly dominates the separatist camp which, until recently, had got used to calling the shots through election boycott calls in the valley. The gloom that envelops the home of the most prominent separatist, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, represents this mesmerising change in full perfection.
Answering a question why wall painted slogans or poster-pamphlets supporting his boycott call were missing from Srinagar, he replied: "It's because I and all my supporters are in preventive custody." Asked about big crowds of enthusiastic voters outside polling booths, his answer was to accuse the army and paramilitary forces of forcing people to vote.
Experts on Jammu and Kashmir politics are busy arguing whether this extraordinary turnout of voters in the valley reflects the changing public mood in favour of Modi or it actually means a collective effort on the part of Kashmiri people to push back the Modi wave from overwhelming their valley.
To some this massive surge of voters represents the last shove for the already non-functional Abdullah family and the Congress. There is no shortage of experts who see it as a clear sign of public support in favour of the only other alternative family -- Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.
The nation and the world will get to know the election results only in the last week of December. But at least one unambiguous sign is fast emerging from this unprecedented public enthusiasm towards the democratic process. The ordinary people in the valley now appear too restless to stay confined in the long house arrest imposed on them by their self-styled gods and political conscience keepers. Peace and prosperity appear to be returning to their agenda.
After all, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to realise that it is these very voters who have lost thousands of their children to the militants and armed forces while children of separatist leaders studied abroad.
As millions of Indian TV viewers enthusiastically watch long queues of valley's voters wait in the chilly winds for their turn at the EVMs, Kashmir is slowly but decisively moving out of its old state of mind to its new place as a State of India. That is, perhaps, the greatest contribution of the Modi Factor in today's Kashmir.
(Vijay Kranti is a senior journalist and chairman of the Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement or CHASE. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])