This Article is From Dec 08, 2014

In Srinagar, the Stunning Normality of it All

(Vikram Chandra is CEO & Executive Director, NDTV Group. He has reported extensively from Kashmir during the insurgency.)

It's a political rally being addressed by the Prime Minister. The crowd listens patiently, as he speaks of tourism and development. The roads leading to the stadium are festooned with BJP flags and banners, and a few big posters of Modi.

It's all quite normal.

And that, perhaps, is the biggest story.

Because this is a rally in Srinagar. A city where hardly anyone has voted in the past two decades. A city where any political banners or prolonged campaigning was almost unheard of a decade ago. Yes, there used to be political activity in the rural areas and in the villages. But in Srinagar? Out of the question.

The speech itself wasn't anything out of the ordinary. We all know Modi can speak very well, and he struck many of the notes that he has been striking across the country - being a pradhan sevak, sharing the grief of the locals, spreading tourism. He referred briefly to Atal Bihari Vajpayee's vision and spoke of  "Kashmiryat, insaniyat, jamhooriyat". He said he would help the Valley recover from the floods, and pointed out that he spent Diwali in the Valley instead of with his family. There was nothing dramatic, just in case someone was expecting a big bang announcement. It was all quite normal.

The reaction, at least here in Srinagar, was mixed - as you would expect it to be. Many locals some distance from the rally site were derisive . Some had high expectations of a big package being announced, and hence were disappointed. Others were a bit more positive.

I met some affluent urban young men at a coffee shop. They said they had no interest in the election. "Why?" I asked, expecting the usual answer about  needing a resolution to the Kashmir problem instead of elections. "Because these politicians do nothing for us. We are not interested in them or anything they say. Not the PDP, not the NC. Not the BJP and not the separatists. Not Omar and not Geelani."

That sounded normal too! I have heard similar sentiments in Mumbai and Delhi.

At the end of the day, if these elections in Kashmir do end up being reasonably normal, then it could be a landmark moment in this troubled region. This week will be crucial. The first two phases were in areas that have often seen heavy voting even in the past - which is why some of the aggressive triumphalism we saw on TV channels was a bit misplaced.

Tomorrow sees voting in more tricky parts of the Valley - such as Sopore, Uri, Baramulla, Pulwama and Tral. Sunday sees Srinagar itself going to the polls, together with parts of South Kashmir like Anantnag, Bijbehara, and Shopian.  

Let's all hope for a dull few days. Normal would be good.