New Delhi: In the years when this writer covered the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, there was a feeling that good old-style Indian politics would settle things a bit. The state had been presented no choice since 1947 in the autocracy of Sheikh Abdullah. Acting on the part of her genealogy that was Kashmiri Pandit, Indira Gandhi cut Abdullah to size and manipulated the Indian National Congress (INC) to power in the state. The manipulation would have mattered less if elections had not been rigged. There was scarcely an election held in the state under Indian National Congress rule in Delhi that was not rigged. The rigging of the 1987 election at the behest of Indira’s son, Rajiv, was the last straw. Syed Salahuddin of the Hizbul Mujahideen who had been declared a winner in the counting hall was deemed a loser when state radio announced the results. Everyone who is acquainted with Kashmir’s history knows what happened afterwards.

The irony is that Salahuddin may have been an exceptional winner of that election. The rest of the Kashmiri separatist opposition was losing. Rajiv Gandhi and his partner-in-political-crime, Farooq Abdullah, the Sheikh’s son, got frightened that it was the endgame for them. It wasn’t. The elections were the key. Once they were made free and fair, a lot of things fell into place. Kashmiris will tell you that the earliest fair election was held when the Janata government was in the Centre in 1977. The next time it happened was in 2002 when A.B.Vajpayee was prime minister. For pure political genius, few can beat Vajpayee. Once the ball was set rolling, the dark cloud seemed to lift from Jammu and Kashmir.

Previous to the latest round of state elections, the two mainstreamed local parties, the National Conference of the Abdullah clan and the People’s Democratic Party of Mufti Syed and his daughter, Mehbooba, appeared to have gained a birthright to rule Jammu and Kashmir, and rule it badly. In view of its past sins and dwindling future, the Indian National Congress was terrified to anger them. It would seem the autocracy of Sheikh Abdullah had been replaced by the duopoly of the Abdullah and Mufti Syed families, with assorted INC leaders making the chorus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to plunge the Bharatiya Janata Party headlong into the state election proved a game-changer. It damaged the calculations of the two dynastic parties of Jammu and Kashmir and the plans of the dynastic INC to rule from behind. It has brought good old-fashioned Indian politics to Jammu and Kashmir with a bang. Jammu and Kashmir needed a proper hung assembly to hustle it to political normality. The latest results have done just that.

Democratic politics has many negatives; but its principal redeeming feature is that it compels the shunning of extremism. Any government that comes into being in Jammu and Kashmir would be constrained to take the middle road. There can be no blackmail by playing on Kashmiri sub-nationalism as the Abdullahs and Mehbooba Syeds have been wont to do. On the other hand, it would oblige the Bharatiya Janata Party to put on the backburner its project to abolish Article 370. If the BJP is part of the government of Jammu and Kashmir, it would constitute a great learning process for it. It would also be an eye-opener for the Kashmiri electorate which by and large did not vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Issues of self-determination, the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, etc, will not be resolved by an election verdict such as this; but it presents a beginning. The popular choices in Kashmir are now restricted to “independence” or remaining with the Indian Union. Except with the hardliners of the Right, Pakistan is no longer an option. The Kashmiris understand they would be swamped by Punjabi chauvinism and religious fundamentalism going with Pakistan. Equally, they cannot wish away India; but it is not living torture to be part of a non-sectarian democracy. By vigorously fighting the election, the Bharatiya Janata Party has also widened the choice for voters in the state. The Bharatiya Janata Party on its own may not matter as that it represents the impulses and vision of Prime Minister Modi. As prime minister, Narendra Modi wanted a close and direct role in the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir, where he could spearhead his plans for progress and development. In this aim, he has succeeded.

In sum, this writer finds several pluses in the Jammu and Kashmir verdict. In a phase of transition, a coalition government may work better than a single-party one. With Narendra Modi’s guiding hand, one sees a silver lining. Despite all the cynicism it provokes, old-style Indian politics, centred on give-and-take, consensus-seeking, negotiations and so forth, has much to recommend.