UPA Wants Elections In J&K Before The Onset Of Winter

21 September 2008

New Delhi: The UPA government is veering to the view that assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir should be held before the current spell of Governor’s Rule ends next January as any delay would be seen as surrender to separatists who have threatened to derail the poll process. The new assembly, which was earlier to be elected by November 20 but now that the state is under Governor’s Rule till January 9, the Election Commission technically has more time to complete the electoral process. In practical terms, however, it cannot delay elections beyond mid-November because harsh winter conditions would then set in. While the Hurriyat has upped its ante against elections, it has found an ally in PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti who has also said said assembly polls should not be held now on the plea that the atmosphere is not conducive for this exercise. The valley is constantly paralysed these days because of periodic bandh calls given by the separatists. The Election Commission is being cagey on the J&K timetable but taking all necessary steps to conduct elections before the winter sets in. The EC has already held one round of consultations with all political parties and government officials for their inputs on poll preparedness and the security situation. It is learnt the security agencies have said they are ready to conduct the elections on time as they have handled worse situations in the valley in the past. If necessary, the EC may consult them again on the situation in the state before notifying the elections, it was said. Since special security arrangements have to be made for the phased elections in J&K, the EC will have to examine how it should work out this schedule as assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi are also to be held this year-end. UPA sources said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not want the J&K elections to be delayed as he believes that it strengthens the perception that the Centre does not want to install a democratically elected government in the state and wants to rule “by proxy”. Since the strife-torn border state is a point of contention between India and Pakistan, the PM is said to be of the view that New Delhi should not take any step which will provide an opportunity to Islamabad to launch a campaign against India. At the same time, it will be a challenge for the Centre and the security agencies to ensure that the elections are “free, fair and credible” as the Hurriyat has already made its intentions clear. Not only will it ensure that people do not come out to vote, but it will also be very difficult for candidates to campaign. “All these factors have to be taken into consideration as the state will be under intense international scrutiny during the elections,” remarked a senior UPA minister. Of the political parties, the BJP has come out in strong support of timely elections as it believes it has a clear edge in Jammu with the Amarnath temple land dispute resulting in Hindu consolidation in its favour. “We want elections to be held on time.They should not be postponed... no impression should be given that elections are not possible in the present scenario,” said senior BJP leader VK Malhtora. Hit badly by the prolonged Jammu protests, the Congress was initially in favour of delaying the elections on grounds of security situation. However, the party has had a rethink and would prefer timely poll as the implications of putting these off are serious and far-reaching. Getting into poll mode, Prithviraj Chavan, minister of state in the PMO and AICC general secretary in charge of J&K, visited the valley last week to meet state leaders who made a strong case for holding elections on time.