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Valley gears for elections
By MG Correspondent in Srinagar

Srinagar: With assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir just six months away, the state is gearing up for poll preparations. The state’s ruling party National Conference (NC) has already begun its pre-poll preparations. It seems that the party is lacking issues in the forthcoming polls, as restoration of autonomy is no more relevant for it to influence voters in Kashmir. 

The party fought 1996 assembly elections on the autonomy slogan and obtained marvellous victory. Besides the ruling party and the state administration taking off to face elections, the central government is also understood to have started acting in this direction. The Chief Election Commissioner of India visited Kashmir valley recently to have the first hand assessment of pre-poll atmosphere in the troubled valley. The Commissioner also hinted that elections would be free and fair in all respects. It is in the valley that most of the political circles believe that the Commission has failed to act fairly and honestly in Kashmir. It was again in the same context that the 23 party separatist amalgam All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) had to announce formation of its own election commission to enter the election fray to show its representative character. The Hurriyat Conference has finally refused to share the assembly election process setting all speculations, in this regard, at rest. The Hurriyat leadership has reiterated that it will contest elections only to show its representative character for future talks to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Despite the Hurriyat leadership clearly declining to contest assembly elections, efforts continue to be on to persuade the amalgam leadership to participate in the assembly polls. The interesting aspect of this persuasion is said to be the efforts being made by noted human rights activist Tapan Bose, who, as per sources, is presently on a motivation move to make Hurriyat contest assembly elections. The Hurriyat for its own formed election commission has nominated Mr. Bose as ‘commissioner’. According to the Hurriyat circles, Bose represents India in the said commission in which Pakistan is being 'represented’ by a former chief justice of that country. The Hurriyat has also nominated members from Kashmir, Jammu, Ladakh and Azad Kashmir for its self formed commission. Hurriyat’s participation in the assembly elections due in October 2002, is believed to be the most important and interesting feature of polls. The issue has attracted interest of all concerned from New Delhi to Srinagar and Islamabad. Though the central government is very keen to make the Hurriyat and other separatist outfits participate in the electoral process, the ruling NC would be the sad and shocked lot over the development. 

This is no hidden secret that NC would never like to see the Hurriyat as its rival in the electoral field. On the other hand the central government is equally concerned over the issue and trying its best to motivate the separatist amalgam to share the poll process. The Hurriyat has been ‘assured’ several times that elections would be free, fair and clean. Even such ‘assurances’ have come from the highest authorities like the Prime Minister and the Home Minister who also endorsed the Hurriyat allegations that election history in Kashmir contains a number of black dots of dishonesty, rigging and malpractices. The ruling party has already activated its cadres for forthcoming elections. Many of the party leaders have toughened their stand and language against the BJP and the central government. This all is done despite the party forming a part of NDA government at center. A group of party leaders headed by provincial president Ghulam Nabi Shaheen has been given the charge of anti center campaign, which the party leadership believes would help in the poll fray. It is reliably learnt from the party sources that NC chief Dr. Farooq Abdullah is going to announce holding elections at the shortest possible notice so that the opponents are given no chance to organize against the ruling party. Recent victory in the Parliamentary bi-elections in Jammu has highly encouraged the party and it expects a similar victory over its opponents in the coming assembly elections. The party bagged the seat from the BJP, which had been considering Jammu as one of its strong-holds. The BJP, congress and other parties alleged mass rigging in the said elections. However observers believe that the Hindu votes, which mainly went against NC, were divided among the BJP and congress candidates giving edge to NC nominee Choudhry Talib Hussain. The mainstream political parties in the state are also trying to have a ‘united forum’ against the NC. The interesting feature of attempts to have such a front is that the state BJP leaders are keenly encouraging the initiative. Both BJP and NC are partners in the NDA government at center. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) headed by former union home minister Mufti Mohammad Syeed is said to be in the forefront to setup an alternative front against the NC. A number of political parties and personalities have been consulted in this regard. The noted supreme court lawyer and the PDP vice president Muzaffar Hussain Beig is said to be in charge of the unity move among opposition parties. According to PDP leader Ms. Mufti Mehbooba, if free and fair elections are held in the state the NC will have to have its place on the back benches. Mehbooba however has strong apprehensions that the ruling party will again resort to frauds to win elections. Her party colleague and the senior Supreme Court lawyer Muzaffar Beg shares the same views. He opines that the people of Kashmir were never given chance to express their will freely and fairly. Besides the unity moves among the opposition parties, the surrendered militants, turned to politics, have also hinted at contesting the ruling NC with all of their might. The pioneer of civil counter-insurgency in Kashmir Kukka Parray told a press conference in Srinagar last week that he was attempting to bring all surrendered militants under one banner to give a tough fight to NC. Kukka Parray is a member of Legislative Assembly, having won the Hajjan seat in Baramulla district in 1996 assembly polls. Parry heads the Awami League, political party of the surrendered militants commonly dubbed as 'Ikhwanis' in Kashmir. Meanwhile the diplomats of Britain, Germany and Canada, who visited Kashmir last week, are said to have told the Hurriyat conference leadership that their idea of having a separate election commission was not practical. The diplomats during their stay in the summer capital had detailed discussions, besides others, with the Hurriyat leaders. Hurriyat sources confirm that during their conversation with the visiting diplomats, the amalgam leaders briefed them about their proposal to have a parallel election commission. Meanwhile indications available from the government circles reveal that some of the separatists, not within the Hurriyat, have expressed their readiness to share the electoral process. Government circles mention names of Shabbir Ahmad Shah, Hashim Qureshi and some former militant commanders in this regard. 
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