The renewal of mandate to govern is the bedrock of any democracy worth its name. In India, the process is less than perfect, but has since 1947 continued to bestow legitimacy on successive governments. Jammu and Kashmir has long been held as an exception to this rule, rightly at times and plainly wrong on other occasions.
Elections to the state legislative assembly, a seven-phase affair continuing till 24 December, seem to be heading in the right direction. That is, if the voter turnout is any indicator. It may be early days, but the sight of voters braving sub-zero temperatures is surely something that will cheer any democrat.
This figure should not be compared with that of an election in, say, Bihar. The administrative and political problems faced in Jammu and Kashmir are of a category wholly different from those on the banks of the Ganga. The secessionist leadership has given a call to all citizens in that state to boycott polls. Alienation is a factor that cannot be ignored and, in any case, there are militants out in numbers to derail the process. If, in such circumstances, people in Kargil and Bandipora constituencies venture out to vote, their sentiments ought to be respected.
Is Jammu and Kashmir becoming a “normal” state? That may seem being elastic with the truth, but the fact is the behaviour of political parties in the state points in that direction. The sordid politics of land allotment for the Amarnath pilgrimage left no political party, save the National Conference, untouched. Both the Congress and the People’s Democratic Party tried to spin the facts surrounding the case to their advantage: Both were complicit in the matter.
This is the sort of behaviour that is normal for politicians in Lucknow or Patna and not a state that is the site of an international “dispute”. This is unedifying from the point of view of good governance, but it does say one thing: Surely Kashmir has more that is similar to India than the alleged differences (or closeness to Pakistan, for that matter). After the process of renewal is over, it would be time to give the people of the state a responsive government.
There may be surprises on the road ahead, but they are unlikely to be nasty.
Is Jammu and Kashmir another normal Indian state? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org