Despite a call for a boycott of the polls, Kashmiris voted in record numbers in the elections. The results and the increased turnout offer a glimmer in a region with a painful history.
But while militancy has fallen in the state, not much has changed. One of the best news pieces I read on the election sounded a note of both caution and hope. This is a region after all, where the presence of the Indian Army has long undermined civil rights and where the government has offered its hardest edge. The government’s response has allowed the damage in the state to become cyclical: increasing resentment among civilians and sympathy for terrorists, and in turn, more terrorism, and even greater crackdown by the state.
Terrorism has contributed to J&K remaining under-developed and poor, and the thousands of unemployed young men only add to the militancy. A big part of our response needs to be in pulling the state out of poverty. A minister within the UPA government recently told me of how he has been encouraging Indian entrepreneurs to invest in the state – he believed that development would be key to reducing the violence. I agree – the three Café Coffee Day outlets that opened up in Srinigar come with the small chance of normal life, development and employment. The promise that such investments offer does more to turn people away from militancy than increasing the army presence and gunning down separatists.