Monday, January 1, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Separatists dead set to disrupt poll
From M.L. Kak
Tribune News Service

JAMMU, Dec 31 — When militants torched three panchayat ghars in south Kashmir recently, it heralded a new phase of confrontation between the government and the separatists, including the militants. The former is determined to complete the panchayat poll being held in the state after a gap of 23 years, while the latter is dead set to disrupt the poll process and ensure that there is no participation of people in the poll.

The All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has already given a call for poll boycott. Militants have issued veiled threats to voters and those contesting the elections. In order to convey their intentions, the militants set ablaze two panchayat ghars in Pulwama district and one in the Kulgam area of Anantnag district.

The separatists have opposed the holding of the panchayat elections on the plea that the people want to be given the right to self-determination and not the job of electing panches and sarpanches.

In fact, the militants have been opposing elections since 1989 and it was then that the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat was won by the National Conference candidate without a contest. The National Conference had bagged Anantnag and Baramula seats where the polling percentage ranged between 5 and 10 per cent.

The exercise was followed with limited success in the 1996 Assembly poll and the previous two Lok Sabha elections. People were scared and that was the reason for the poor polling in all three Lok Sabha constituencies in the Kashmir valley during the past two years.

The Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, has accepted the challenge posed by the militants as far as their plan of wrecking the poll process is concerned. Dr Abdullah has said that the poll process “has taken off to constitute democratic institutions after 23 years.” He has said that “basically we want devolution of power to villages for people to take their own decisions”, adding that this was the spirit of “azadi”.

He said those involved in militancy were opposed to the elections but “we are determined to empower people at the grassroots level.” He has assured people that care “has been taken about the security aspect and the state has been divided into various zones”.

Inside reports said that for militants loyal to Pakistan, “it is going to be a do-or-die exercise” of blocking the panchayat poll process. The separatists seem to be keen on ensuring that the polling percentage remains poorer than the previous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections so that they can convey to the world that people in Kashmir are not for elections but for “settlement of the Kashmir dispute”.

The separatists fear that if the panchayat elections are completed and voters take part in the poll process, their campaign against the system of franchise will be defeated.

While the government has to meet the threat from the militants it has also been facing embarrassment from opposition parties. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), headed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has charged the government in general and the National Conference in particular with attempts to make the ensuing panchayat poll a mockery.

The PDP provincial President, Mr Ved Mahajan, told newspersons here that the state authorities had left hardly a day or two between the poll notification and the date for filing nomination papers. In this connection, he referred to the poll notification for the phase-I and said that voters and candidates had come to know about it through newspapers a day or two before the last date of filing of nomination papers.

He alleged that in Kupwara, Poonch and Rajouri districts, where the poll is to be held in the first phase, people had come to know about the poll notification on December 27 and 28 through newspapers while the date of filing of nomination papers had been fixed between December 26 and 29.

Mr Mahajan said this strategy had been “adopted to facilitate pro-National Conference men to contest the elections”. He said by deciding that the ensuing panchayat elections, would be held on a non-party basis, the National Conference had planned to cover its defeat by filling the panchayat committee with its supporters.

The BJP has also criticised the National Conference for making the poll a non-party issue. It has demanded that proper procedure should be followed before fixing the poll schedule. The Congress had wanted amendment to the Panchayat Act so that the Act existing in the rest of the country was extended to Jammu and Kashmir.

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