Emotions would fight reality in next Kashmir elections

April 18th, 2008 - 11:41 am ICT by admin  

(News Analysis)
By F. Ahmed
Srinagar, April 18 (IANS) The forthcoming assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir are going to be both interesting and trend-setting. The average Kashmiri has started talking of violence in the past tense, though incidents of violence do occur across the state at regular intervals. This is also evident from the fact that the separatist politicians, except for the hardline Syed Ali Geelani and Yasin Malik of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), have been talking of an election boycott in subdued tones.

Sources close of some of these separatist leaders indicate that at least a few among them are toying with the idea of joining the electoral fray while others are seriously debating the prospects of fielding proxy candidates.

Civic issues like better roads, healthcare, education, employment, infrastructure development, incentives to trade and industry, transparency and accountability in public life and, of course, the integrity and appeal of individual candidates rather than the party they represent would be the voters’ touchstone to weigh candidates during the elections.

The winners and losers could draw the lines for the future of the state where emotions would be pitched against hard hitting public issues concerning the lives of ordinary Kashmiris.

All the mainstream political parties in Kashmir have started wooing voters for the elections due later this year.

Interestingly, the battle lines are being drawn even between the two major ruling alliance partners - the Congress and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Even though Congress president and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi has stated clearly that her party and the PDP must stick together, Saifuddin Soz, chief of the state Congress unit, has decided to keep his options open.

“It is too early to comment on electoral alliances for the forthcoming assembly elections. We will decide at the appropriate time,” Soz told the media here.

The regional National Conference has entangled itself in a war of attrition with the PDP, which the party considers its only serious challenge in the valley.

The PDP also has been sharpening its political arsenal keeping the National Conference in mind.

The latest addition to the PDP’s political arsenal against the National Conference is the proposal of a dual currency for Kashmir mooted by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the patron of the party.

If the National Conference feels bitter about the PDP raking up emotive issues which stir the hearts and minds of Kashmiris, it has only itself to blame.

Even after signing an accord with the then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1975, National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah continued his rhetoric of opening the Rawalpindi (Srinagar-Muzaffarabad) road, importing Pakistani rock salt to Kashmir that was stopped after 1947, and waving the green handkerchief during election rallies to seek votes from the people.

The PDP has taken a leaf out of the Sheikh’s political book and is now using the same against the National Conference.

Because of its strong professed pro-Kashmiri credentials, the PDP has so far failed to create a dent in the Jammu region of the state even though the setting up of a university in Rajouri district of Jammu is expected to give some political dividend to Mufti’s party.

In contrast, the National Conference has a wider base and reach in the Jammu region.

The party has always been respectably represented in the Jammu region though its political sustenance always owed itself to the Muslim majority valley.

The Congress, which won five assembly seats from the valley during the 2002 elections , is making an all out effort to improve its prospects here.

The Congress party’s main electoral plank is going to be peace and development. Being a centrist party, the Congress cannot afford to harp on emotive issues, which might give a handle to its opponents at the national level.

The Congress will definitely have to fight for political space in the valley with both the PDP and the National Conference.

Senior party leader and Social Welfare Minister Abdul Gani Vakil has been accusing the PDP leadership of deceiving the people by raising emotive issues like withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

Vakil has been telling one public meeting of his party after the other, “It was Mufti who as the country’s home minister extended these powers to the state and now he has been demanding their repeal.”

Encouragingly, the elections are not likely to witness as much violence as was seen during the last assembly and parliamentary elections in the state in the last 18 years.

This is a big dividend of the peace process and the normalization in relations between India and Pakistan.

Senior intelligence and security force officials have gone on record admitting that infiltration has been reduced by 60 percent during the last three months.

(F. Ahmed can be contacted at f.ahmed@ians.in)

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