June 2002 News

Centre eyes non-Hurriyat front In J&K

12 June 2002
The Statesman

New Delhi: With the Hurriyat Conference on a weak wicket after the arrest of its prominent firebrand leaders, the government is hoping a third front will emerge in Kashmir Valley by the time the state goes to polls later this year. And if things go just according to their plans, an official said a credible third front during the Assembly elections could well be the last nail in the coffin of the Hurriyat Conference as a powerful political entity in the Valley. Politically, he said, the problem in Kashmir has been the absence of a political entity that maintains a respectable distance from mainstream political parties and could be relied upon. “The Hurriyat tried to fill this void by projecting themselves as the real representatives of the people. With the Hurriyat sidelined by the government, a third front could fill this void,” the official said, adding Kashmiri leaders such as former chief minister Mr GM Shah and former Union minister Mr Mufti Mohammed Sayeed have been propagating this idea for some months now. It being pointed out that the government’s decision to crackdown on Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ahmed Shah Geelani — soon after moderate leader Abdul Ghani Lone was gunned down — had a message for other pro-Pakistan leaders: That the government meant business and would not let them scare other moderates from participating in the elections. There were indications that the Conference would not be able to support the elections. “Which is why the Centre’s interlocutor for Kashmir, Mr KC Pant, invited all political entities and others in the State,” an official said. The Hurriyat was taken aback because it sent a clear signal that they were not the only representatives of the Kashmiri people. In a visit to Kashmir last year that was then generally viewed as unsuccessful, Mr Pant was only able to meet militant leader-turned-moderate Shabbir Shah and ex-chief minister Mr GM Shah. Several emissaries of the Centre such as Mr Ram Jethmalani have subsequently gone to Kashmir and held talks with political leaders. The idea all along, officials said, was to encourage the second rung leadership of the Hurriyat and other political parties to emerge. The political statement expected to be made by the Prime Minister when he went to Kashmir last month was to give the moderates a reason to contest the elections by promising to negotiate the extent of autonomy for the state. But the war hysteria sparked off by the Jammu massacre ended up with Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee returning to Delhi after announcing an economic package. He is likely to use his second visit to deliver the political message.


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