‘Not Only is There a Case for Phased Withdrawal of the Rashtriya Rifles but also Review of the AF(SP)A as well as the Disturbed Areas Act’-January 2009
President, National Conference, Omar Abdullah
Did you ever imagine the overwhelming numbers that came out to vote in these elections?

Nobody could imagine that after the summer of agitation people would turn out in these numbers. This just shows that whatever happened in July-August was a wave that All Party Hurriyat Conference was able to ride in Kashmir just as the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti did in Jammu. I was very clear that what we were seeing then was not organised by the Hurriyat Conference or the Sangharsh Samiti but something which these organisations took advantage off. Given this, and the way people felt about the mainstream political parties at that time, we felt that the election boycott call by the Hurriyat would have some impact. But clearly, people have learnt to distinguish between emotional issues and those that impact their day to day lives. Given the grassroots level of the National Conference workers, how did this thing go unnoticed that there is a difference between the sentiment of azadi and day to day living? It did not go unnoticed. In fact, the day we went to the Prime Minister to discuss the draft agreement between the Raj Bhawan (Governor) and the Sangharsh Samiti in August, we told the Prime Minister that, ‘while there will be those who will advice you to postpone the elections, you should consider holding them on schedule.

At least, that will give the people something else to think and talk about. It will also distract them from the summer long agitation.’ The day the Election Commission announced the elections, we were ready; in the sense that we were not going to be pussy-footing on the question of participation unlike the PDP which sought to give the impression that it was not interested. The day after the announcement of the election schedule I drove out of Srinagar and had our first convention in Budgam. That gave an excuse to PDP to start a propaganda campaign against me that we are forcing elections down people’s throats, when they don’t want it. While we understood that people were able to distinguish between their day to day lives and the azadi sentiment, we did not fully foresee the absence of violence. We understood that people wanted to participate in the electoral process, but in the presence of violence this sentiment gets subdued. What we have realised now is that in the absence of militant violence or even a threat of militant violence, the Hurriyat Conference’s ability to influence people diminishes considerably. It is not that people do not agree with their point of view or that everybody who voted wants a solution within the Constitution of India. But this showed that people’s desire to negate the Hurriyat propaganda and use their vote constructively. This has given the Hurriyat, one, a bloody nose; and two, it has left them in a quandary as to how to regroup from here.

How much has the peace process contributed toward people distinguishing between azadi and their day to day lives?

The peace process has reduced the level of violence. It is because of the peace process that the political parties have been able to take their message to the people and have allowed people to respond to that message.
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