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Citizens’ body to broaden Kashmir poll participation assails government

Concerned citizens in the national capital have formed a committee to ensure the broadest possible participation in coming Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections.

The Kashmir Committee, headed by former central law minister Ram Jethmalani, includes prominent citizens like Dilip Padgaonkar of the Times of India, lawyer Ashok Bhan, freelance journalist Jawaid Laiq, and retired diplomat VK Grover.

Jethmalani, at a committee meeting in Delhi on August 4, criticised government for complicating the Kashmir issue by announcing election dates in a hurry.

The committee, like Western nations, wants to ensure the participation of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a conglomerate of 23 separatist organisations. Under Western pressure the APHC has agreed to participate in a dialogue if the Centre formally asks them.

The committee feels minus APHC participation, the elections would not carry much conviction. The APHC representative in Delhi, Abdul Majid Bandey, told the committee that at such a short notice (polls are due in the next two months), it may not be possible for the Hurriyat to arrange its logistics.

Jethmalani said that even at this late hour, it was not impossible to ensure the participation of as many groups as possible, if the Central government so desired. For that the Centre would have to tell everyone that the elections would be fair, free and transparent.

The committee also appealed to the APHC to explore all the possibilities regarding their participation. So far APHC has been wary of participation in elections as it implied a tacit recognition of India’ s Constitution. As a conglomerate of separatist organisations, APHC had decided to stay away from elections.

They have been convinced by the British and Americans that their participation in the elections would facilitate the solution of Kashmir problem. So far India has refused to allow APHC to participate in talks between India and Pakistan as representatives of Kashmiris. As members of state legislature, APHC people would be allowed to represent Kashmiris in future parleys.

This line of argument has brought a section of the APHC round to accepting elections. However, even those sections of APHC which are thinking of participating in the elections feel that there is not enough time for mobilisation of support for the election-wary APHC.

On the other hand, parties like the ruling National Conference and Congress are more experienced in electioneering. Parties like BJP and Panthers Party are marginal in the Valley of Kashmir, but are influential in Jammu and Ladakh divisions of the state.

At present an official interlocutor, former law minister Arun Jaitley is holding dialogue with Kashmiri organisations on devolution of powers while National Conference, the party ruling Jammu & Kashmir at present is demanding 'autonomy' for the state. 
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