When Jammu and Kashmir goes for the Assembly elections, it will be for the first time that there will be no shadow of the separatist lobby.
Gone are the days when the Hurriyat-led separatists would give a boycott call and people would be reluctant to venture out. The Panchayat elections and the District Development Council polls have called the bluff of the anti-India lobbies as voters came out in huge numbers to elect their representatives.
Sustained action by the government against the separatist elements has dealt a major blow to them. Their top leaders, such as Yasin Malik and Shabbir Shah, are in jail. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was the patron of the Pakistan-sponsored separatist movement in the valley, died alone with no valley outpouring of grief for him even on his final journey. Most of the separatist leaders and their sympathisers have been exposed through sustained action by various government forces.
It has been well established that a majority of these leaders were amassing fortunes through the money collected in the name of jihad or separatist movement.
They were forcing the people, especially the youth to take up guns and stones, even as their own children were studying and working abroad. As well-documented revelations about these so-called leaders came out into the public domain, the people have been feeling betrayed and increasingly abandoning the ’cause’.
Post the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, and changing the status of the state to a Union Territory after freeing Ladakh, the real test now lies in restoring political as well as the electoral processes in Kashmir.
In the last three years after the revocation of the special constitutional position, Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed tremendous changes. All types of businesses are flourishing, tourism is at its peak, the Amarnath Yatra was successful and the Har Ghar Tiranga campaign worked.
When the Tricolour was hoisted at the historic Lal Chowk, the message was loud and clear: The separatists have lost ground and faith in the electoral process is rising.
The separatists’ call for a boycott or the threat posed by terror groups no longer stops people from voting as was seen during the last Assembly elections held in erstwhile J&K state. Voters made a beeline for the polling booths even in those areas which were once militancy infested. The 2014 Assembly polls recorded almost 66 per cent voting in J&K, ignoring terror threats and separatist boycott calls.
The government has been continuously cracking down on the separatist and terror support mechanism in the valley. The separatists have been largely working through threats and igniting religious sentiments. The jailing of some of these separatist leaders has largely freed the general masses of the viciousness that they had created with the backing of Pakistan.
Apart from action by the NIA and the Enforcement Directorate, the government has also been trying to weed out the separatist sympathisers in the local administration. In April 2021 the Manoj Sinha-led J&K administration set up a special task force to identify state government employees involved in anti-India activities and not give them the benefit of an inquiry, as permitted under Article 311(2)(c) of the Constitution. So far, more than 25 employees have been sacked using this provision.
Last year in July, two sons of the Hizbul chief Syed Salahuddin and 11 J&K government employees were dismissed by the Union Territory administration for allegedly supporting militant activities, working as overground workers, arranging weapons for terrorists and terror funding.
In August this year, four employees, including the wife of ‘Bitta Karate’, who is accused of killing many Kashmiri Pandits in the early 1990s, were sacked by the J&K administration.
These were the people who were appointed to these posts through backdoor channels and were involved in anti-national activities, while drawing salaries from the government.
The crackdown is essentially to identify such people and root them out to clean the system, and set an example that can boost the confidence of the people.
As the rule of law gets firmly established, the writ of the separatist lobbies ceases to run and the confidence of the masses increases.
Even the mainstream political parties today are talking about elections and want a stake in the set up. The NC and PDP had boycotted the panchayat polls in 2018 amid boycott calls by the Geelani-headed Joint Resistance Leadership, but took part in the DDC polls held in December 2019.
The DDC elections saw good participation in Kashmir raising hopes that the people are ready to move on.
In the past couple of years, the separatist groups’ calls for boycott or hartals have not been heeded by the locals. Over the past three decades, the separatists had been giving shut down calls each time any significant event was taking place or any dignitary was visiting or elections were to be held.
All this, however, has changed after the abrogation of Article 370 and the crackdown on separatists and their sympathisers. No longer are such boycott calls given and people in the valley are willing to move ahead. Elections are the way forward and choosing their own government is their right, which the local people increasingly wish to exercise.
(Deepika Bhan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)