Kashmir separatist leader says poll boycott no option now

5 April 2009

Srinagar: In a significant development, the leader of a key separatist party in Kashmir, has indicated willingness to join the electoral fray saying his party has excluded poll boycott from the party's agenda for now. People's Conference led by Sajjad Ghani Lone has convened a key working committee meeting in the coming week to discuss the strategy to be adopted for the upcoming polls for Indian parliament, sources said. Kashmir has six seats in the Indian parliament's lower house for which voting taking place later this month. The two-day meeting for the working committee and the general council of the Peoples Conference, will discuss the party's possible participation in the elections, these sources said. The Peoples Conference led by Sajjad, younger son of the slain leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Abdul Ghani Lone, had spearheaded an aggressive boycott campaign for last year's assembly elections. The boycott however failed as elections recorded more than 50 percent voter turnout. Sajjad now says that boycott is not an option today. 'Boycott is not on the agenda of the party meeting, nor is it an option now,' he said. When asked about his party joining the election fray, Sajjad said that this too would be discussed. The party rank and file appears to be of the view that there was nothing wrong in saying within Indian councils what it says outside, and asserts that it would not involve a change in stance. Sources would like one to believe that pressure was mounting on Sajjad from within the party to contest the elections, as in addition to the previous reason, it would also ensure the unity of the People's Conference. A faction of the party led by Sajjad's elder brother is aligned with the Hurriyat Conference of Mirwaiz Umer Farooq. Recently, reports have appeared in the media about the possibility of Sajjad contesting the parliamentary elections, but there has been no word of confirmation or denial from either the party or its leader, strengthening the impression that the People's Conference was serious about taking to the poll the fray.