Last Friday saw a series of militant attacks across the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the midst of the assembly elections in the state. Thirteen people, including a civilian, nine soldiers and three policemen, died in the four separate attacks. Such attacks, prior to any indication of normalcy in the Kashmir Valley, are a recurring pattern. Besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed visit to Srinagar on Monday, these attacks have come before the state enters its third phase of polling in the ongoing assembly elections. The Indian establishment has laid the blame on non-state actors or terrorists from Pakistan. Yet again allegations have surfaced that these militants had received prior backing from the Pakistani establishment to destabilise the border region. It is imperative to understand that hardliners from both sides of the border, including sections of the Pakistani military establishment and separatist leaders on the Indian side, have a vested interest in continuing the narrative of a forced Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir. It does not help matters that the Pakistan government sponsors two special trains for the Hafiz Saeed-led Jamaat-ud-Dawah group’s two-day congregation. Saeed’s vicious anti-India rhetoric continues to reach a wide audience in Pakistan. With more than 70 per cent turnout in certain pockets of the Valley during the first two phases of polling, the narrative of a forced Indian occupation has definitely taken a hit. Such a turnout is an irrefutable sign that the local populace is participating in a democratic exercise held under the Indian constitution.
Terror attacks of such precision and coordination have been carried out in the past to create fear in the minds of ordinary citizens into rejecting the legitimacy of the Indian state in Kashmir Valley. This time, however, voters have chosen to ignore these attacks and cast their ballot in droves. The third phase of polling, scheduled for 9 December, will present another opportunity for those elements who are keen on keeping voters away from booths. Following the third phase of assembly elections, polling will be held in the urban constituencies of the Valley, including separatist strongholds of Srinagar, where voter turnout has been traditionally low. If the state’s urban populace also come out in large numbers this year, it would be another indication of the changing narrative. Despite a terror attack in Srinagar, prior to the inauguration of the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus service in 2005, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went ahead with the event. Events on Friday should neither deter Modi, nor force voters from exercising their democratic right. Whether or not the large voter turnout is indicative of the BJP’s presence in the State, nothing should deter the citizen’s right from choosing their government.