The successful conclusion of the District Development Council elections in the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir is proof that people’s urge for democratic rule in this troubled region is alive and kicking; and over 51% people are willing participants of the democratic process of electing their representatives for these local body polls. While Kashmir recorded an overall turnout of 31%, that figure is misleading as in the final phase of the polls, the northern district of Kupwara had a turnout as high as 63.8%, with Bandipora having a vote percentage of 56.5%. It was only because of some separatist-dominated districts such as Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag that the overall voting percentage was not as high it was in Jammu, some of whose areas such as Poonch and Reasi witnessed over 80% turnout. And this in spite of an election boycott call given by hard-line separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani. These elections were necessary as an important substitute for the Assembly elections because they upheld democratic values by giving an expression to people’s will. Apart from this being the right thing to do on the part of the government, the elections should go a long way in countering the Pakistan-backed propaganda that removal of Article 370 was meant to oppress the Kashmiri majority population and would lead to unrest, which India would curb with a heavy hand. In fact, Kashmir has been relatively calm in the almost 17 months that Article 370 has been removed. It was life as usual within a few months of the 5 August 2019 move, in spite of the Pakistan-inspired narrative in the western media space about violation of human rights taking place in Kashmir. It is hoped that any propaganda against India on violation of human rights will be met with the example of these elections, which were both free and fair, with even the Bharatiya Janata Party’s main opponents not questioning the election process even once. In fact the results were along expected lines, with the Gupkar alliance dominating the Valley and BJP, Jammu, the main difference being, unlike in 2014, this time the Abdullahs’ National Conference did better than the Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party. It is hoped, now that there are people’s representatives at the district level, benefits of Central government schemes will reach the grassroots, thus improving conditions on the ground. Kashmir’s main problem is that successive Central governments have flooded the valley with money, but very little of that has reached the ground and instead has lined the pockets of some local politicians. It is hoped that this situation will change. In fact, some changes in governance for the better are already being witnessed for the efficiency with which Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha is governing the union territory, by directly reaching out to the people. But of course, sooner or later the UT will have to come out of Governor’s Rule and it is hoped that these elections will go a long way in that direction. Significantly, robust voting was witnessed in another frontier state as well, Arunachal Pradesh, which voted for panchayat and urban local bodies, proving once again to China—which is coveting that state—in particular that the people in that state are happy being Indian and believe in exercising their rights as Indians. In fact, Arunachal is an important outpost for India’s Act East policy and the infrastructure development taking place there and the increase in connectivity of that region with the rest of the country will help India to pursue this policy.
In short, people’s whole-hearted participation in these two elections prove that however much China and Pakistan may try, they will never be able to take away the Indianness of these two people. Democracy is in their DNA. And this is the message that India needs to convey to the world. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues must stay the course and not get deflected by the aftershocks created in Canada, the US and the UK by the China-Pakistan lobby, which is working in overdrive to ensure a return to chaos in Jammu & Kashmir, and is seeking to ensure that pressure from the US (especially the Biden-Harris administration) succeeds where their own schemes have fallen flat. Should such efforts be made as a consequence of the influence of the sizeable PRC and Pakistan lobbies in the Biden-Harris camp, they should be politely but firmly rebuffed. The US and India must work together as partners in creating a better environment for democracy and safety from terror, but for this, the new administration needs to understand that both sides must protect each other against the threats posed by authoritarian expansionism and Wahhabi extremism. An early meeting between PM Modi and President Biden is called for.