Framing manifestoes a big challenge for Kashmir parties

October 24th, 2008 - 6:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyJammu, Oct 24 (IANS) With the first phase of assembly elections just three weeks away, political parties in Jammu and Kashmir are engaged in a jugglery of putting words and issues together to lure the electorate - but this is proving to be an uphill task. On Friday, the Election Commission issued a notification on the first phase of polling Nov 17 for 10 seats in Leh, Kargil, Poonch and Bandipore districts where nearly 600,000 voters are eligible to exercise their franchise, but the parties are nowhere close to releasing their manifestoes.

The erstwhile ruling Peoples Democratic Party is yet to announce whether it would participate in polls, leave alone its declaration of the issues it would address.

Party insiders say that on one level, the PDP would attempt to project itself as a party of the Kashmiri people all the way and would tailor its manifesto accordingly. That would mean keeping out the appeal to the electorate in the Hindu and Buddhist dominated parts of Jammu and Ladakh regions. If it appeals to these two regions, it would only be replicating the National Conference.

“That we don’t want,” a senior PDP leader admitted.

On its part, the National Conference is struggling with ways to improve upon its autonomy plank, which brought it into power in 1996.

“We are holding discussions,” was all that Omar Abdullah, who heads the National Conference, would say.

The major national parties - the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - too are confronted with a similar dilemma. They cannot appeal to parochial feelings for that would dent their national image.

“We have constituted a manifesto committee headed by our veteran colleague Mangat Ram Sharma,” Kashmir’s Congress unit head Saifuddin Soz said.

The Congress will have to include the demand for fresh delimitation of constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, keeping in view the popular sentiment in Jammu region - especially in the Hindu dominated areas. But, that is where it fears it would be a mirror image of the BJP.

Likewise, it can not afford to ignore the perceived discrimination of the Jammu region without annoying the electorate in the Kashmir Valley, where the feeling is that their area has been discriminated against vis-a-vis Jammu.

The Congress has its stronghold in the Jammu region, but the Valley is politically crucial.

As for the BJP, it realises that its demand for removing Article 370 of the constitution that gives special status to Kashmir is an oversold issue that has lost its appeal.

So it would have to list some kind of appeal, party sources said, for the Muslim population and that is not possible without paying a price in the Hindu areas where it hopes to get votes this time in larger numbers.

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