Kashmir Separatists Not Calling For Poll Boycott: India Votes

17 April 2009

New Delhi: A separatist alliance in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state has for the first time decided not to call for a boycott of general elections, which started yesterday, saying the vote had nothing to do with their cause, the Hindustan Times said. After three days of talks, the moderate faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, led by chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said the elections were a “non-issue” and no alternative to the “right to self-determination” it seeks, the paper said. It didn’t specifically call for a boycott, the daily reported. “We have left the decision to Kashmiris and tried to educate them about the elections,” Hurriyat spokesman Saleem Geelani told the paper. Leading separatist Sajjad Lone will contest the polls, which are being staggered for security and logistical reasons and end on May 13. Lone said he wanted a bigger platform from which to represent the people of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. Elections for the state assembly last year saw a strong turnout, with voters saying local development should be set aside from the larger issue of independence. The Hurriyat had urged Kashmiris to stay at home. India and Pakistan have fought two of three wars since independence in 1947 over control of the Himalayan territory, divided between them and claimed in full by both. India accuses Pakistan of backing separatists fighting its rule in Jammu and Kashmir, where more than a dozen separatist groups have been opposing rule from New Delhi. About 50,000 people have died since an anti-India rebellion began in 1989. A faction of the Hurriyat headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called for Kashmiris to boycott the poll, the Hindustan Times said. In Brief: * A slipper was thrown at opposition Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani by a former member of the party during a public meeting yesterday in Madhya Pradesh, the Press Trust of India reported. A Sikh journalist threw a shoe at Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram during a news conference in New Delhi on April 7, angered by the minister’s response to a question related to anti-Sikh riots in 1984. Poll Schedule: The remaining four rounds of voting will be held on April 23, April 30, May 7 and May 13. The voting is staggered to enable security forces to fan out across the country to secure ballot stations. Counting of votes will take place in all constituencies on May 16. Opinion Polls: The elections will probably result in a fragmented verdict with no existing political alliance able to form a government, a poll by Star News-Nielsen said last week. The Congress party-led ruling coalition may win 203 seats in polls to the 543 seats being contested, to 191 for the opposition alliance headed by the BJP, it said. A survey in India Today magazine in the first week of April showed the United Progressive Alliance, headed by Congress, may win 190 to 199 seats, while the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance may get between 172 and 181 seats. On March 22, an opinion poll by Star News and AC Nielsen Co. said the UPA would win 257 seats, short of the 272 needed for a majority. The NDA would have 184 lawmakers in the new parliament. Economy: India’s $1.2 trillion economy expanded 5.3 percent in the three months to Dec. 31 from a year earlier, the slowest pace since 2003, after a 7.6 percent gain in the previous quarter, as the world’s worst recession since World War II lowers output and demand for Indian goods overseas. Declining overseas orders and shrinking local demand may make it difficult for India to achieve its 7.1 percent growth estimate for the year that ended March 31, 2009, according to Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the prime minister’s top economic adviser. The current estimate would be the slowest pace of expansion since the 12 months to March 2003. Prime Minister Singh’s government has announced three fiscal stimulus packages. India’s annual inflation rate slowed to 0.18 percent in the week to April 4 from a year earlier, the slowest pace in at least two decades.