May 2001 News

Early polls may catch Oppn unawares in J&K

10 May 2001
The Hindustan Times
Arun Joshi

Jammu: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has hinted at the probability of elections in the State, which otherwise goes to polls only in October 2002. His announcement is seen as an attempt to expose his political opponents, but Abdullah feels it's a gamble worth taking. The Chief Minister hinted about elections while talking to Srinagar Doordarshan yesterday. He said he would hold Assembly elections "very soon" and give the Opposition and other groups an "unprecedented opportunity" to prove their credentials. Abdullah's National Conference has 63 seats in the House of 89. He is confident, especially after the successful panchayat elections where the turnout ranged from 65 per cent to 80 per cent. He is also encouraged by the fact that the opposition parties are in disarray. The State Legislative Assembly's tenure is for six years. This is by virtue of an amendment effected in 1976 on the pattern of the Indian Parliament during the emergency. Abdullah knows he is sitting pretty. His slogan for greater autonomy has received added significance with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference having failed to spell out its political target. Now the CM has started projecting his government in terms of the State's development in the last four-and-a-half years. He is attempting to showcase "development" by harping on his projects - reconstructed schools, bridges, revival of tourism and rebuilding of economic infrastructure. The CM's idea is to highlight the fact that all this was possible without any help from the Centre. Since 1998, the State Government has not got any funds from the Centre. Its plan allocation has remained static at Rs 1,750 crore and nearly 40 per cent of the allocated funds are not given to the State. The CM's announcement has put the Centre and the APHC in a spot. The APHC had said no to talks, but will have to revise its strategy. If it goes ahead with its usual "boycott polls" stand, it will be seen as shying away from the democratic process. Political analysts say if the APHC refuses to contest elections, the attention will shift to the Democratic Freedom Party. It remains to be seen how its president, Shabir Shah, will react to this challenge. Other political parties, the Congress and the BJP are plagued by internal conflict. Though the Peoples Democratic Party and other small groups are trying to gain ground, they"ll have to toughen up if they are to take on Abdullah, say analysts.


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