Farooq's remark on polls may be a wake-up call
19 May 2001
The Times of India
Dwarika Prasad Sharma
JAMMU: Early elections to the Jammu and Kashmir assembly are unlikely though Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah said at a public meeting recently that they would be held soon. In purely technical terms, there has to be a fresh delimitation of constituencies after a census, which has recorded a large increase in the population of the state. The normal six-year term of the assembly will run out in October next year. Senior National Conference leaders said that there had been no discussion on possible early elections in any of the party forums, or with individual partymen or a group of them, either before his utterance or after it. A party legislator said that the remark had been misinterpreted and that it had most probably been a wake-up call to the Hurriyat Conference leaders to get on with the talks process and graduate to participation in the democratic process, or they would have to wait for another six years or so. He said that the democratic process was the only real and practical ideal in the Kashmir situation, which is being sought to be confused by the separatists. He said the Hurriyat leaders wanted tripartite talks, but Pakistan, which ostensibly supported self-determination for the Kashmiris, had made it mandatory for candidates to the forthcoming elections to the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir assembly to declare that they supported Kashmir's accession to Pakistan. Another NC legislator said "Farooq's aim was not only to convey to the Hurriyat leaders to come down from the shelf, but cock a snook at the mainstream parties which, like the People's Democratic Party of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, have lost the wind in their sails, or, like the Congress and the BJP, are beset with infighting." Some critics, however, said that Farooq's utterance should not be taken lightly as he might be planning to try to ensure his own position before he was surprised by any unforeseen turn to the peace initiative of the Centre that would require him to step down. The reactions of various mainstream parties to Farooq's remark show that they are averse to an early election, and that they fear large- scale rigging. The panchayat elections, which Farooq has been citing as one of his government's success stories, have been described by them as an eyewash in most areas. The People's Democratic Party, which has one legislator in the assembly, is seen to have developed a degree of fatigue after its initial inroads in the Valley and arousing of interest in some pockets of Jammu. The party, though, claims credit for the Centre initiating the process of unconditional talks with the separatists. No other political party, except of course the National Conference, has a reckonable base in the Valley. The BJP, with eight seats, is practically entirely Jammu-based. At present, it is riven over the choice of a new chief for the state unit. The Congress, which has six seats in the 89-member House, in which two women members belonging to the NC have been nominated, is also virtually Jammu-based. According to observers, though the rift in the BJP may not necessarily erode its electoral showing, the persistent infighting in the Congress may. At present, the NC has 60 elected members, while three seats held by NC members are vacant on account of their death.