Rajouri, Nov 21 (IANS) The heavy turnout of voters in the first round of balloting in Jammu and Kashmir will set the trend for the rest of the staggered polls, says former chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.
'Definitely this is a trendsetter for the rest of the (six) phases,' Sayeed told IANS while campaigning in this mountainous district of Jammu region. 'I expected people to come out but not in such large numbers. It is a surprise to me as well.
'I believe that people had strong faith in the electoral process which appears to have become stronger. After the free and fair polls of 2002 in Jammu and Kashmir, people have started believing that this assembly and its representatives can facilitate a resolution of the Kashmir issue.'
Despite calls for boycott by Islamic separatists, 64 percent of the electorate voted Nov 17 in the first round of polling in Jammu and Kashmir covering the Kashmir Valley, the Jammu region and Ladakh.
The Muslim-majority valley saw winding queues of voters in the Bandipora, Sonawari and Gurez constituencies, surprising officials and political activists alike.
Sayeed's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had in fact opposed the holding of the elections at this time citing 'unfavourable situation'.
The PDP patron, who was chief minister from 2002 to 2005 with the backing of the Congress, was asked why the separatist election boycott call did not click?
'People seem to be committed and have faith in the electoral process. This faith is also an outcome of free and fair elections that were conducted in year 2002,' he replied.
Sayeed said the current elections, which end Dec 24, would prove to be historic.
'We are on the crossroads. If meaningful representatives are elected who can prevail upon different quarters, then we are sure to achieve a resolution of the Kashmir issue.
'But we all, including India and Pakistan, have to move from stated positions.
'The (new) assembly in this case will play a vital role. We are the stakeholders. We have great hope and are optimistic that a resolution (of the Kashmir dispute) will be there in another six years.'
The former Indian home minister also felt that the voting in the first round proved that mainstream political parties were back in the limelight.
'We want to resolve problems through democratic process as there is no other way to resolve the Kashmir issue,' he explained. 'The assembly can be a facilitator for this.'
He said that when he was chief minister, 'we facilitated free movement of people across the LoC (Line of Control). Now you see the atmosphere of suspicion and doubt has gone. There is hope and peace around while people are coming and going.
'Gun is no solution and we have had a bitter experience of it. America has used it in Iraq and Afghanistan and the outcome is before everyone.'
What more, according to him, needs to be done between India and Pakistan?
'We have made good progress but I still feel that Pakistan should have accepted the offer for joint management after the earthquake in (Kashmir) in 2005 when the Indian government offered its help...
'Again it's a great sign when the Indian prime minister told me that he is ready to offer help to Pakistan in its financial crisis.'
Sayeed was asked if the vocal and violent street protests for and against the allotment of land to the Hindu Amarnath shrine had deeply polarised the Jammu region and the Kashmir Valley on religious lines.
'Though there were attempts to communalise the issue, people have come out of it. (I have told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that) the state comprises of three regions which have their own grievances and problems. All these three regions should get their share of power. There should be devolution of power. In this case regional councils are required.'
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