The attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri, Baramulla District, which resulted in the deaths of 11 security personnel and 5 militants, comes two days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit and during a time when the populace is showing substantial participation in the elections in Jammu and Kashmir . The purpose of the attack could be to deter the voters, to warn Modi, to send a message that despite the heavy turnout the separatist movement is well and alive, a continuation of the armed resistance against Indian occupation or all of the above. The BJP’s campaign drive, which is overtly based on its tried and tested promise of economic development but many fear that there is a covert communal and federal agenda. It is quite interesting to see the ongoing elections spark such diverse views on how they are to be politically and socially interpreted.
Some argue that the heavy turnout is a triumph of democratic forces in the region and highlights the failure of boycott politics propagated by separatist elements such as the Hurriyat Conference. They go on to claim that this is also reflective of where the people stand on the Kashmir dispute. Others argue that the Kashmiris view the elections as an exercise conducted every five years to put a government in place and nothing more. Due to non-performance and poor administration of previous governments, the people wish to exercise the power of their votes to improve their economic conditions by choosing their representatives. They stress that the heavy turnout should not be mistaken for a referendum on the issue of separation, as it primarily speaks to the population’s administrative needs as opposed to its ideological leanings. Some attribute the high numbers to BJP’s polarizing effect owing to the threat of reversal of Article 370, reserved seats for Kashmiri pundits, introduction of Sanskrit in the curriculum, as people don’t just vote to bring someone in, but also to keep somebody out. Another school of thought suggests that what we’re witnessing in Kashmir is a culmination of these two factors coming together – the severe need for development and the failure of boycott politics. In any case, the results will surely assist in assessing the situation with more clarity and precision.
For Pakistan too, these elections offer plenty to examine. Does the change in J&K say anything about the peoples’ view on the cause? Does that change have any bearing on whom Pakistan recognizes and engages with as the rightful representatives? Does it risk delineating a large section of the Kashmiri society if it continues to limit its interaction to Hurriyat leaders? Or is it wiser to hold on to those who undoubtedly share a common agenda for the future of Kashmir ?