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Jammu and Kashmir: Mandate for secular democracy

Jammu and Kashmir: Mandate for secular democracy

Editorial in The Hindu, 29 Dec 2008


Early in August, as his jeep wound its way through the piles of burning tyres that angry protestors had used to barricade the road from Srinagar airport into the city, former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, 72, turned to a journalist sitting next to him with a smile on his face. “So,” he said, “are you here to write another article about how I don’t know how to run a government?” More likely than not, Dr. Abdullah’s leadership — or that of Jammu & Kashmir National Conference president, his son Omar Abdullah — will soon be put to the test. Having emerged as the single largest party in the J&K Assembly, with 28 seats in a house of 87, the National Conference has the undeniable right to form and lead the government. To do so, however, it will need the support of the Congress, which has picked up 17 seats. In 2002, the Congress joined hands with the People’s Democratic Party to form a government, and some in New Delhi would like to see the arrangement revived. But the party’s rank-and-file in the State are hostile to an alliance with the PDP, arguing that its religious-chauvinist politics and ‘soft separatism’ are unacceptable to their constituents. Battered by the violence unleashed in the wake of the PDP’s decision to pull out of the alliance after land-use rights were granted to the Shri Amarnath-ji Shrine, few in the State Congress have any desire to revive the relationship.


When the Congress central leadership meets to decide its course of action, it must consider the single most important message from this watershed election: the people of J&K have largely rejected religious chauvinism. The Election Commission of India has been brilliantly vindicated in its judgment of how people would respond to challenging circumstances. For the PDP, the returns from the incendiary communal campaign it ran this summer, and from its efforts to reach out to secessionists, have been quite disappointing. The party found that its hopes of emerging as the principal political voice of the Kashmir region have been thwarted, even though it secured the backing of the rank-and-file of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Winning 21 seats compared with 16 in 2002 is less impressive than it might seem. After all, in the 2004 Lok Sabha election the PDP was ahead in 25 Assembly segments. While the Jamaat-e-Islami’s participation in the election bodes well for the re-institutionalisation of democracy in the State, the election results have demonstrated that the PDP needs secular allies and partners in order to make a bid for power — allies and partners who will not be forthcoming unless the party moderates its stance and builds bridges across religious and ethnic lines.


Hindutva chauvinism hasn’t paid off despite the seemingly dramatic improvement in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s fortunes, which have taken its tally from just one seat in 2002 to 11 now. Claims that the BJP has ridden a communal tide in Jammu are empirically unsustainable. First, it must be recalled that the ultra-right Jammu State Morcha broke away from the BJP on the eve of the 2002 Assembly election. Had this division of votes not taken place, simple arithmetic suggests that the BJP would have won eight seats in that contest. The 2008 results mark an improvement in the BJP’s fortunes but only a modest one. Even more significantly, most of the 2008 victories have come in areas where the Amarnath Shrine movement remained muted. The BJP’s efforts to capitalise on communal polarisation have, for the most part, ended in failure. Kirti Verma, the wife of a protestor who committed suicide, has been defeated in Vijaypur and a senior BJP leader, Nirmal Singh, also suffered defeat in Samba, which witnessed some of the most intense violence in Jammu this summer. Most of the party’s victories have come in areas that saw relatively little violence but where voters were dissatisfied with the developmental record of incumbents. This is a lesson the party must heed if it wishes to expand its Statewide reach in the future.


Despite the political risks, both Dr. Abdullah and former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad swam against the chauvinist current this summer. They refused to be drawn into the ugly politics that threatened to rip Jammu and Kashmir apart. Voters have rewarded them for their sobriety. Now the responsible course for the Congress is accepting the primacy of the National Conference and forming a coalition with it to provide the people of the State the secular, development-oriented, and transparent government they voted for. Support from independents and the small secular parties will be needed to ensure stability for this arrangement. The central government must lose no time in pushing forward the broad-based consultative process on J&K’s future that was instituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but has made little progress. In the coming months, the growing reach and influence of Islamist terror groups in Pakistan could well pose a threat to the fragile peace in the State. For years, the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference has been allowed to exercise a de facto veto on the course and tempo of the peace process. Now the focus must shift to empowering the elected legislators and enabling them to work together towards a road map for J&K’s future. For too long has genuine autonomy, promised to the State by the Indian Constitution, remained elusive. Broad-based agreement on this issue will give ideological protection against the jihadist threat to the secular democratic revival that so many have given their lives for. The 2008 election results are a slap in the face for religious fundamentalists and precisely the tonic that India needs, post-Mumbai, to demonstrate its absolute commitment to secular democracy.


Outside support is Cong’s best option

Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times

New Delhi, December 28, 2008


It’s been a triumph of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir.


The fractured verdict is striking in its rejection of armed militancy and terrorism as ways of meeting popular aspirations. Yet, much now depends on how New Delhi and the parties that come to power in J&K build on this.


The BJP’s spectacular gains in Jammu and the People’s Democratic Party’s expanded base in the Valley — notably South Kashmir where it mobilised the separatist Jamaat-e-Islami cadres orphaned by Syed Ali Shah Gilani’s poll-boycott — may cause anxiety.


“Monopoly of the opposition space by either or both could trigger religious polarization within Jammu and across regions,” said a political scientist, requesting anonymity.


He considered outside support for the NC as the Congress’s best option. In helping prop up a regime without a share in power, the party leading the government at the Centre would come across as respecting the mandate, thereby acquiring a stake on either side of the political divide.


The call, indeed, is difficult for the Congress that holds the key to government formation in view of the BJP’s pariah status and the PDP’s credibility crisis compounded by its flirtations with the JI cadres. If it joins the NC-led combine, the Congress might end up replicating 1987, when their short-lived alliance allowed separatists a free run of the vacant Opposition space. 


As brought out by the Amarnath controversy, one political misstep can deeply endanger national interests in J&K. India’s diplomatic gains from the electorate’s repeat rebuff to militancy— after the watershed 2002 polls — would be far from realised in the absence of a credible regime capable of efficient, inclusive governance.


The participatory nature of the elections was for New Delhi an opportunity to tick off world powers seeking to link Kashmir to the global fight against terror. "We now can move from calling Kashmir an integral part of our country to empowering its people as citizens of India," said Prof. Rekha Chowdhary of Jammu University.


Chowdhary’s added that the Kashmiri rejection of violence should not be misconstrued as dilution of the separatist constituency: “They have buoyed the PDP in the hope that it will better negotiate and promote their interests through classical political means."


An MEA official endorsed her prognosis de-linking separatism from militancy. “These elections prove that terrorism emanating from Pakistan isn’t Kashmir specific. The threat is self-sustaining. A placatory approach will embolden its perpetrators into broadening their agenda."


Simply put, the US bid to link Kashmir’s resolution with the fight against terror is based on facile logic. But to stand up and be heard, New Delhi has to deliver governance that addresses alienation and enhances the quality of life in J&K.


J&K verdict presents opportunity and some dangers


Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu


Both separatists and Centre need to rethink strategy


Militants assumed people were not going to vote


People made a distinction between Kashmir issue and civic problems


- Srinagar: If the huge increase in voter turnout in the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir is being seen as more decisive a ‘verdict’ than the specific apportioning of seats among the contending parties, this is because the electorate chose not to pay heed to the separatist call for a poll boycott. But a setback for the separatists need not automatically mean the ‘Kashmir issue’ or ‘masla-e-Kashmir’ has been robbed of its salience.


Indeed, if the separatist leadership is still in denial — some more than others — about the turnout, those in charge of Kashmir policy in New Delhi would be committing a gross error in assuming they can go back to business as usual.


“Yes, we’ve had a setback,” Sajjad Lone, a moderate in the Hurriyat camp, acknowledged. The movement made a mistake in not delinking the demand for ‘azadi’ from people’s day-to-day issues, he told The Hindu in an interview on Saturday.


“Our problem is that we had stigmatised elections. Had we not done so, nobody would be accusing us of having failed to read what was on the minds of the people.” Other separatist leaders are not so introspective. Syed Ali Shah Geelani says the boycott call made by the Hurriyat was not wrong. And he insists, contrary to media reports, that the turnout figures were artificially inflated by bogus voting and “invisible pressure” by the security forces.


Mr. Geelani’s claim that the Hurriyat’s boycott strategy would have succeeded if this pressure had not been there is ridiculed by independent observers. “The Jamaat-e-Islami is in complete denial,” said Tahir Mohiudin, editor of the weekly Chattan, referring to the organisation to which the hardline Hurriyat leader belongs.


“Just as Pakistan is not willing to accept Ajmal Amir ‘Kasab’, they are not willing to accept that people actually voted.” For rural residents, who one’s MLA is really matters because often he or she is the most important conduit for ensuring that civic amenities and development works come to one’s area. In towns and cities like Srinagar this is not the case, which explains, at least in part, why secessionist sentiments do not get leavened or tempered by such concerns at election time and the majority choose to stay away from the polls.


According to Mr. Mohiudin, the single most important factor behind the increase in turnout this year was the near absence of militant violence. Another factor was the huge number of candidates taking part. In some constituencies, the number of contestants was as high as 27, including several that had the backing of their own villages.

Vibrant atmosphere


This created a vibrant atmosphere, with rallies and door-to-door campaigning increasing voter interest. But none of this would have been possible without the decline in militant violence, he said.


Mr. Geelani alleged that some of the huge increase in the number of candidates was engineered by the “agencies.” Though he offered no proof, it does seem as if the “soft power” of the Indian political establishment did play a role.


Parties like the Forward Bloc, Samata and Lok Janshakti, which have never forayed into the valley, fielded candidates with reasonably well-funded campaigns. But even if this factor helped with the turnout, it is a measure of the changed situation on the ground that parties looking for candidates faced an embarrassment of choice this time around. In the past, potential contestants were few and far between given the risks involved in campaigning.


Security officials acknowledge the fact that militant organisations like the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba made no attempt to disrupt the elections this time, unlike in 1996 and even 2002. But they say the reason for this was a certain complacency in the separatist political camp following the massive pro-azadi protests which convulsed the valley over the summer.


“I think [they] assumed people were not going to vote and that there was no point in getting the militants involved,” said a security official who asked not to be identified. And by the time they realised people were voting, it was too late to do anything about it, he said, adding that the security forces were vigilant and had the upper hand.


Mr. Mohiudin disputed the suggestion that militants were not in a position to disrupt the elections if they really wanted to. “The Director General of Police said recently that there are still 800 militants active in Kashmir. Given the large number of candidates, even 50 militants would have been enough to disrupt things.”


The Kashmiri street believes the absence of violence was the result of a backdoor agreement between India and Pakistan but Mr. Mohiudin put it down to the realisation by militants, especially the HM, whose cadre is largely Kashmiri, that the international climate had turned against the use of violence and that there was little sense in using force to keep the turnout low when the international legitimacy of the elections would likely remain unaffected.


For separatist leaders like Mr. Lone with the semblance of a popular base in north Kashmir, these elections are forcing a rethink of strategy. “The grammar of our movement has remained unchanged since 1989,” he said. “How long can we run a movement with the same slogans and tactics.” Some in the separatist camp are now toying with the idea of fielding proxy candidates in the Lok Sabha elections next year with a view to defeating mainstream parties like the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party.

This strategy is ridiculed by hardliners as immature and by independent observers as impractical. But it is clear that some churning is likely to happen in the Hurriyat conference over this issue.


In convincing ordinary people in the valley that there was value in casting a vote, the Indian establishment has recovered some of the ground it lost over the past two decades. Though this verdict would have been even more robust if it had been accomplished without resort to questionable steps like placing separatist leaders under house arrest during the campaign, the reaction of Hurriyat leaders like Mr. Lone and Mirwaiz Omar Farooq makes it clear the APHC was genuinely out of sync with popular sentiment. And yet, the alienation and the equally toxic mistrust between the Valley and Jammu remain as major problems that will have to be resolved through careful handling.


The elections of 2008 may well be a watershed but the turnout witnessed is still less than what was seen in 1987, when more than 70 per cent of the electorate came out to vote; 1987 was a watershed election because that is where the downward slide in the state all began. The results were rigged and played a major role in fuelling the insurgency which followed. Security officials now are more than willing to concede that India scored a massive own goal that year. Had the pro-secessionist Muslim United Front been allowed to win the seats they were winning, they would, by most assessments, have got around 13-14 seats. “I don’t think that would have been the end of the world,” one official said on condition of anonymity.


In their approach to the elections, it is apparent that people in the valley made a distinction between the ‘masla-e-kashmir,’ or the problem of Kashmir, and ‘kashmiriyon ke masail,’ or the problems of Kashmiris. The latter need immediate redressal through the political process. It is possible the former could also be addressed through the normal political process but only after people regain their confidence in the robustness and democratic nature of the system, including its ability to exercise control over the security forces. To that extent, we are back to 1987, when people decided to trust the process. In 1987, that trust was betrayed at the polling station itself. That has not happened this time and observers here hope it won’t happen later once the new government takes charge. “The Centre has no coherent strategy. They are only reactive,” said Mr. Mohiudin. “Now that the elections have been a huge success, I hope the old mindset doesn’t come back. It is very easy to say ‘people have voted against the separatists and for India, and that all we need to do is throw funds at the new set-up.’ I think this would be a big blunder on New Delhi’s part.”


The approach Mr. Mohiudin favours is one where the Centre continues to engage with the separatists, now that the latter have been chastened to a certain extent, in a process that fully involves the mainstream parties of the state as well. The elections have made the resolution of the ‘Kashmir issue’ a little more easy, but it would be a mistake to assume the issue itself has now been voted away.



Split J&K election verdict reflects divide in society

by Sanjay Kumar


ALTHOUGH the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has significantly strengthened its presence in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, the latest elections were essentially a three-way contest.


The two regional parties, the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), were in direct contest in 46 Valley seats. The PDP performed well, and all its victories came from this region. There was no obvious antiincumbency mood against it, and former CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed still leaves all other leaders far behind in terms of personal popularity. Though Congress won a few seats in the Valley, the BJP had no presence there at all. The influence of the two national parties remained largely limited to the 37 seats in the Jammu region. These seats witnessed two kinds of contest. The Hindu-dominated constituencies saw a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress, and the Congress lost most of them. The Muslim-dominated constituencies in Rajouri, Doda and Poonch districts witnessed a direct contest between the NC and the Congress. The NC lost many of these constituencies to the Congress.


Had the Congress failed to consolidate the Muslim vote in these constituencies, it would have suffered a much bigger loss than it did. If you look at the overall seat distribution, the three main parties have won around the same number of seats they did the last time round. But beneath these figures, a massive churning of seats lies hidden. The Congress retained only eight of the 20 seats it won in 2002, losing nine to the BJP and three to the NC. The NC, whose overall figure is still 28, retained only 18 of its seats from the last election. It lost five to the PDP, three to the Congress and one each to the BJP and an independent. The PDP managed to win 13 of the 16 seats it won the last time, but lost two seats to the NC and one to a smaller party. The BJP of course retained its lone seat from the last assembly, but made much of its gains at the cost of the Congress.


The fractured mandate reflects the parties’ fractured support base, which in turn reflects the increasingly fractured social fabric of the state. The Amarnath land row earlier this year, which led to the fall of the Congress-PDP coalition and the imposition of Governor’s Rule in the state, deepened the divide between Jammu and the Valley. While the the Valley was largely against giving land to the Amarnath Shrine board, most people in Jammu favoured the transfer. The faultlines were evident in the protests in June and July, and now they are evident in the election result.


This divide could also be seen in the opinion the people of the two regions hold about different leaders and how they evaluated the performance of the various parties. Even on an issue like road development, people from the two regions held different opinions. There is also a feeling of neglect among Jammu residents from the leaders in the Valley.


However, this election was not just about divisions. Both Jammu and the Valley expressed a high enthusiasm for elections and turned out in large numbers. In Jammu, the turnout jumped by 16 per cent, in the Valley it soared by 22 per cent.


People all over the state also unanimously viewed the elections as free and fair. While the Amaranth issue may have helped the BJP mobilise the Hindu vote, people largely voted on issues like water, road and electricity. The squabbling parties should not miss that mandate.


Sanjay Kumar is a fellow at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi


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BJP has won, but Jammu has lost, says Azad

Ishfaq Naseem Posted: Dec 29, 2008 at 0349 hrs IST


Jammu: The TV set was tucked in a corner of this blue-painted room. And there was a crowd in front of it. Channels were being flipped and even the security staff were watching the results with keen interest. Former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad wore a broad smile. But that was only in the framed picture. Throughout the day, Azad looked tense, either walking in the lawn of his official residence or else discussing the results with party leaders behind closed doors.


As it started to become clear that the state was destined for a hung verdict, Azad made it known he was not a happy man. “It is more fractured a mandate than that of the 2002 elections. This unfortunate mandate is not good for the people of the state,” Azad said.


Azad said that in view of the rising tension between India and Pakistan following the Mumbai Terror attacks, Jammu and Kashmir needs a stable government. “We have a long history with a hostile neighbour that has been determined to bring about the disintegration of the state for the past 20 years. In such a situation, the state needs a strong Government which can withstand the pressures from across the border while advancing on the road to development,” the former CM said.



On the BJP’s performance in Jammu, Azad showed dismay. “The BJP has won, but Jammu has lost,” he told The Indian Express on Sunday.


“The BJP has taken total advantage of the Amarnath land agitation. This was the only issue it raised in the elections. The performance of the Congress was based on the fact that it created infrastructure in the state. The party brought normalcy in the state. The BJP has eaten up our seats on a religious card,” Azad said.


When asked about a coalition partner, Azad said that it was too early to comment but added that the Congress was open to the National Conference (NC) as well as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). “But no one can form the government without the support of the Congress,” he insisted.


Rise of BJP in J&K worrying sign: Azad

Press Trust Of India

Srinagar, December 28, 2008


Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Gulam Nabi Azad on Sunday said the "rise" of BJP in the state was a worrying sign.


"It does worry me. These trends are the outcome of unfortunate things happened in July and August. The question is that secularism is getting shrunk at the cost of development," Azad said, adding that it should be "a worry for each and every Indian."


"The rise of BJP in the border state which is facing terrorism is a worrying factor for the entire country," he said.


"Their only vision is to create communal tension among the people," Azad said. "They are being rejected across the country because of their communalism."


In an apparent reference to the problems faced by Congress in its alliance with PDP, Azad said past experience would be taken into consideration while deciding the alliance partner.


He refused to comment about any alliance possibility saying that it shall be decided at the highest level by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.


When asked about his personal choice, the leader said that he would choose a party whose national and secular credentials are known.


On the Amarnath land row, he said it was never a win-win situation for the Congress.


"If we had withdrawn (the order of land allotment) one region would have erupted and if we had not not the other region would have. It is difficult to take a decision keeping all the three regions in mind," Azad, who was the chief minister when the row erupted this year, said.



'Amarnath land row helped BJP in Jammu'

28 Dec 2008, 1608 hrs IST, IANS


NEW DELHI: The migrant Kashmiri Pandits in the Indian capital have attributed the good showing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Jammu


and Kashmir elections to the Amarnath land row that had seen the state divided along religious lines. ( Watch )


The BJP is leading on 5 seats in the Jammu region and has won 8, compared to just one seat it won in 2002.


"There is a polarization in Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP's good performance in the Jammu region is a manifestation of this polarization," national spokesman of Panun Kashmir Kamal Haq said.


Aditya Raj Kaul of Roots in Kashmir echoed Haq's sentiments.


"It was very much expected. People really wanted to vent their anger as their religious sentiments were hurt. Amarnath was definitely an issue in Jammu and this is evident in the BJP leading in many of the strong bastions of the Congress," Kaul said.


However, others feel the poll outcome is a reflection of the "regional aspirations" of the Jammu region.


"It (BJP's performance in Jammu) should be seen as an expression of the regional aspirations of Jammu rather than religious sentiments. Even in the last elections, BJP was trailing as a close second in all the constituencies in Jammu, so the Amarnath issue has impacted only marginally," said Rashneek Kher of Roots in Kashmir.



NC ahead, set to form J&K govt with Cong

By Yusuf Jameel, Asian Age

Srinagar-Dec. 28: The crucial Jammu and Kashmir elections, for the second consecutive time, have thrown up a hung Assembly, handing a fractured mandate to contesting parties which will now have to make the best of a bad job.


The National Conference, the state’s oldest political party, has, as expected, emerged as the single-largest group. It won 28 seats in the 87-member House and will stake claim to forming the next government on Monday, party president Omar Abdullah said.


But since the NC has not got the required 44 seats to take it past the halfway mark, it will approach the Congress, which finished third, with 17 seats, to form an alliance. Mr Omar Abdullah said that while personally he would prefer an alliance with the Congress, the party might also try to get the support of some Independents. He, however, categorically, ruled out any deal with the BJP, saying that if that became necessary the NC would prefer to sit in Opposition instead.


Both Mr Omar Abdullah and his father, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, are believed to be already in touch with the Congress leadership.


The People’s Democratic Party, which has increased its tally from 16 in 2002 to 21 this time and emerged as the second largest group in the Assembly, is also making attempts to form the government with the Congress. The two had shared power on a rotation basis for nearly six years before falling apart earlier this year over the Amarnath land transfer issue. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said her party wanted an alliance with parties whose agenda was compatible with its own, a clear reference to the Congress.


The Amarnath land controversy led to religious and regional polarisation in Jammu and Kashmir, pitting the predominantly Muslim Valley against the predominantly Hindu Jammu region. While the PDP appears to have benefited the most from this in the Valley, it is the BJP which made considerable gains in Jammu, winning 11 seats, against the single seat it held in the last Assembly.


Ten seats have gone to smaller regional groups, including the J&K National Panthers’ Party, and Independents.


As both the NC and PDP have ruled out joining hands with the BJP to form the new government, and the Congress too is unlikely to have any such relationship with it, in all probability there will be a NC-Congress government which will take charge of the state, with a PDP-Congress coalition government being an outside possibility.


The BJP, elated over the considerable gains it has made and with its eyes firmly set on repeating such a performance in next year’s Lok Sabha elections, has declared that it will sit in Opposition and ruled out trying to be a part of the next government.


The Congress will undoubtedly play the role of kingmaker. Since the NC has emerged as the single largest party, governor N.N. Vohra is obliged to invite it first to form the government. The NC had won the same number of seats in the last election too, but since it fell short of a majority it decided to sit in Opposition.


The PDP has been wiped out from Kashmir’s political nerve centre, Srinagar, where the NC won all eight seats, as well as in neighbouring Ganderbal district. The NC had lost one Srinagar seat to the PDP and another to an Independent who also joined the PDP later, but has now succeeded in claiming these back from it this time. On the other hand, the PDP has, on expected lines, performed much better than it did in 2002 in the southern Valley and some other areas.


Dr Farooq Abdullah has won from both Hazratbal and Sonawar in Srinagar, while his son Omar won from Ganderbal, PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed from Anantnag, his daughter Mehbooba Mufti from neighbouring Wacchi and BJP state president Ashok Kumar Khajuria from Jammu East.


CPI(M) state secretary Muhammad Yusuf Tarigami retained his Kulgam seat, as did PDP rebel Ghulam Hassan Mir in Gulmarg and People’s Democratic Front chief and former minister Hakeen Muhammad Yasin in neighbouring Khan Sahib.


With the NC and Congress together having 45 seats, above the halfway mark, and that coalition likely to get some additional support, an alliance between the two looks increasingly likely. However, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi are known to be soft on the PDP, and in the middle of the campaign external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee had said in Srinagar that a PDP-Congress coalition would be in the interest of the state and the nation.


Many Congress leaders at both the state and national level have, however, pushed for an alliance with its "natural ally", the National Conference. They have pointed out that the party might find it hard to sell the urgency of entering into an alliance with the PDP in Jammu and beyond as the party’s image there has been hit due to its stand on the Amanath land transfer and other issues. Also, with general elections nearing, these leaders say a Congress alliance with "soft separatists" would be something the BJP would not hesitate to exploit. On this count, too, an alliance with the NC would be preferable, they say.



J&K: a good pointer to future, says Yechury


Urges Centre not to rely solely on U.S. to put pressure on Pakistan


KOLKATA: Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury said here on Sunday that the Jammu and Kashmir polls results were a very good pointer to the future.


“It is a very good pointer to the future … that political parties which had maintained an all-India perspective in the elections like the Congress, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, have done well despite all efforts of communal polarisation,” he said.


The huge voter turnout, despite a malicious campaign by the communal forces, was a big trial for the Indian democracy and its unity and integrity.


Mr. Yechury was speaking at an interactive session on “Citizen’s Security in view of Terrorist’s Activities.”


India should mobilise maximum international support with a view to invoking the United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1373 against Pakistan to force that country to take action against terror perpetrators operating from its soil.”


While urging the Centre not to rely solely on the United States to put pressure on Pakistan, he pointed out that time and again it was proved that the U.S. was Pakistan’s closer ally than India.


Referring to the devastating impacts of the wars in Israel, Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, India should find a political solution to the issue rather than pursuing a military solution.


“Any attempt to combat terror in India by straitjacketing it into one single religion or region will be counter-productive and will only feed terrorism further.”


Asked what he would have done during the Mumbai attacks had he been the Prime Minister, he said he would have taken preventive measures, than the present reactive posture of the Centre, to ensure that such attacks did not take place.


“A clear inadequacy of our intelligence agencies was evident during the Mumbai attacks when they did not have any coordination between them,” he said.


On the coming Lok Sabha elections, he said the current objective was to develop a non-Congress and secular alternative against the communal forces.


“At the national level, we already have an understanding with the Telugu Desam Party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Janata Dal (Secular). Though talks of joint campaign with the Bahujan Samaj Party did not materialise, further talks will be held with that party.”



Reduced militancy led to higher voter turnout: Chief Election Commissioner


The Hindu - New Delhi: Less fear factor due to reduced militancy is the cause for the higher voter turnout in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly polls, according to Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami.


Mr. Gopalaswami told The Hindu: “In the last one year, there has been a reduction in militancy-related incidents and hence the fear factor was not there. The real success is wherever there was low percentage in the last elections, there was higher turnout this time and it showed that people wanted to participate in the democratic process in a big way.”


Asked whether the credit for this should go to the Commission, he said, “It is a victory for democracy. For us Jammu and Kashmir is another State. There is no reason to distinguish J&K elections as something different from five other States that went to the polls recently. By repeatedly talking about J&K polls as something different is not correct.”


Asked about his statement at the time of announcement of the polls that the Commission was taking a calculated risk, he said, “Initially the political parties were apprehensive about canvassing for the elections in a free and fair manner. In this context, the Commission felt that legitimacy of the elections would be lost if political parties are unable to canvass or mobilise support and, second, if people are kept away due to militant activities. Fortunately, less militancy resulted in political parties undertaking their campaign freely and people coming to vote in an atmosphere where there was no fear.”


Asked why J&K polls were held in seven-phases, he said, “we could have reduced it to four or five, but we had to take into consideration the availability of security forces since Assembly elections were also being held in five other States. In the higher reaches we conducted the polls in November considering the weather factor and polls were spread over to December in other areas.”


On preparations for the Lok Sabha polls, he said, “the Commission has not taken any decision in this regard. The revised electoral rolls would be ready by the middle of January, 2009 and any decision on holding general elections would be taken only thereafter.”


On complaints regarding the Thirumangalam by-election in Tamil Nadu, he said Deputy Election Commissioner J.P. Prakash would visit the constituency in the next few days for an assessment.



PDP open to alliance: Mehbooba


Mehbooba disapproves of “soft separatist tag” for her party


SRINAGAR: The People’s Democratic Party said on Sunday the over 60 per cent voter turnout should not be considered the “end of the road” as Jammu and Kashmir was different from other States and the people had “different aspirations and ambitions.”


PDP president Mehbooba Mufti told reporters that her party was open to an alliance with any party that agreed to have a common minimum programme (CMP) chalked out, as in 2002. Otherwise, it would prefer to sit in the Opposition.


Hailing the 2002 CMP that it had with the Congress, she said: “In 2002, we sat together and we had a CMP, where the healing touch policy became the lead. It was even appreciated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. We brought about a turn in the whole situation.”


Asked if the Congress would risk a tie-up with the PDP because of its “soft separatist tag,” she said, “I don’t know what they mean by soft separatist approach. If opening of the Muzaffarabad road and asking for trade on the road is soft separatism, I think the Prime Minister is very much party to that.”


Ms. Mehbooba said what was important for her party was “how to deal with the situation in the State, how to address it and what is going to be our policies and programme. Whether the other party agrees to it is going to be the foremost thing.”


Asked if she would get on the bus with the Congress, she said, “They are not in touch with us. We have not decided anything.”


Though she directly refused to talk about the Congress as the PDP’s ally for installing a new government, she said that when the National Conference and the Congress shared power in the 80’s, “they had to rig the elections in ’87 and that is why so many people picked up guns and they got killed.”


She quickly added, “We shared power with the Congress and our coalition was seen [even at the] international level as one of the best coalitions. It brought a total change in the situation.”


Asked about the Congress’s charge that the PDP betrayed it during the Amarnath land row, Ms. Mehbooba said, “We are a people’s party. What we did was that we responded to the aspirations of the people at that point of time. Three people had already been killed and we could not be just bystanders and hence we sacrificed power to see that people get what they wanted at that point of time.”

Pandits draw a blank


A report from Jammu said that for the first time, the Assembly will have no Kashmiri Pandit member as all 47 candidates, including the former Minister, Raman Mattoo, lost the elections.


“It is for the first time in the history of Jammu and Kashmir that not even a single KP candidate could occupy a berth in the Assembly,” All-Party Migrant Coordination committee (APMCC) chairman Vinood Pandit said.


Mr. Mattoo, Industries Minister in the previous Congress-PDP coalition government, lost to Shimeema Firdos of the National Conference in the Habbakadal constituency. — PTI