Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kashmir Votes

Kashmir is in a wintry squeeze. There are two major camps in this conflict-ridden state. The mainstream and the separatists. While those owing their allegiance to the former make their living by faking their loyalty to New Delhi, the latter simply thrive on dissent. There are lots of players in both camps but no good leaders. And Kashmir oscillates between the two extremes. No one advocates or cares for the middle path.

The separatists are riddled with factions. They dislike each other guts but publicly speak in the same secessionist overtones. The top guys wear expensive Kara-Kul caps. The lowly sidekicks settle with well-tailored achkans [flowing gowns]. These guys have interceders to issue boycotts and blacklists. The middle-men are called coordination committee. These are the same bunch of gentlemen who called the immensely popular chalo’s [Lets go] marches some months back.

The mainstream is thoroughly corrupt. They drive around in beacon fitted cars at the expense of state. They cavort in state guest houses. They have hollow slogans, which no one takes seriously. Worse still the politicians know that they are reviled. Yet they carry on with their business. Given a truly independent election [may be monitored by the UN] not one of them will win a seat in the assembly. Since that may never happen, the mainstream continues to run the show.

The election commission of India is conducting elections in Kashmir. Half a million troopers are on vigil. There is an election boycott call from the coordination committee. The weather is inclement. The million strong marches are a recent memory. Yet people came out to vote. I don’t believe in anything that the state media says but I trust independent news sources. BBC reported a decent voter turn out in Phase-I. Now that is very interesting.

Part of it could be plain cajoling and harassment by the army. 'We gonna come back to check who has got an inked-finger'. Elections in Kashmir have never been transparent in the real sense and the election commission of India knows that fully well. They have been perhaps asked by the intelligence agencies to make an exception for Kashmir. Matter of sovereignty, some may argue. Yet, it appears that this time people have actually exercised their franchise, in large parts, out of their will. What about those marches? Martyrs?

I guess it is about three things. One: People want a basic decent life -- good roads, good education, better jobs and they know an elected, political government is better equipped to do that. No governor speaks Kashmiri and Kashmiri's have trouble explaining themselves in Hindi. Two: People in the countryside appear less likely to take the separatists seriously. The boycott call apparently has been ignored, at least in rural Kashmir. Three: While the Azadi sentiment lives on, and is not expected to die anytime soon, a disenchantment syndrome is taking root. The shelf life of any dissent is short.

For the while it looks like advantage mainstream. We are headed for a civilian rule and out of the three: Farooq – a notoriously colorful doctor, Mufti – of red wine fame and Azad – a disconnected congressman, the doctor may walk away with the crown. But let’s not jump the gun here. Remember Kashmir has always been bit of a riddle.

We shall have to wait till it snows again!