February 1998 News

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Parties vie to take credit for peace in Kashmir

23rd February 1998
Hindustan Times

SRINAGAR: Once again Kashmir is looking back at its years of turmoil, death and destruction as the campaign for the parliamentary polls promises to reach a crescendo here despite rains and snow playing a spoilsport.

Politically not much is at stake for the national political groups here, the Kashmir Valley has only three parliamentary seats, and the regional political groups particularly the ruling National Conference are trying hard to score victory on all of them.

All these groups are seeking vote for peace. This political battle has also brought All-Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a conglomerate of over two dozen separatist groups, into the field campaigning for the "poll boycott."

While political groups are organising rallies seeking votes, the Hurriyat Conference is using the similar modes asking people to "stay away."

"The election is a drama. All individuals were playing their role. Don't believe them and thinly of those who were killed in all these 'fears', says Mohammad Yasin Malik, who represents pro-independence Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in the APHC.

There are charges and counter charges as to who shamelessly built wealth and immovable assets, and also as to who brought bloodshed to the Valley.

Minister of State for Home Ali Mohammed Sagar whose attacks on the Hurriyat Conference are much more scathing than that of other speakers at election rallies, reminds the audience that the "offsprings of Hurriyat leaders were well settled and leading a comfortable life, while they made your children to die and fill graveyards cross the Valley".

Mr Sagar explains his reasons for being so venomous against APHC: "Our fight is essentially against them (APHC leaders).

"They have destroyed Kashmir. We want peace to return and complete peace to return and they are enemies of peace", he told The Hindustan Times.

Yasin Malik, whose rallies at Charar-e-Sharief and Kangan and some other places in the Valley attracted crowds, which he claims were "larger" than that of others, "says:" I have nothing to offer and still the people come and listen to our programme, while the ruling party has many things to offer, so you can make out the difference".

But the political scene is hotting up despite the poll boycott call. All leaders were attracting crowds. The National Conference candidates and their rallies are not the only ones with the crowds, there are crowds in the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and even the Janata Dal rallies.

This is a big differenc this time. While Srinagar city remains more or less indifferent to the poll campaign, the campaign has picked up m the rural areas where the opposition groups and ruling party were engaged in fierce charges against each other.

Former Union Home Minister and Congress candidate from Anantnag Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, whose presence in the fray has given some anxious moments to the National Conference and Janata Dal candidate Mohammad Maqbool Dar, is highlighting the human rights violations in his poll campaign. "I am talking for the people of Kashmir. I want them to progress and prosper", Mufti said at his rallies in Kulman and Shangus in the past two days. He alleges that the past 16 months rule has brought "more misery to the people".

Minister of State for Agriculture Bashir Ahmad Nengroo, who is leading the National Conference campaign in Pulwama district which forms part of Anantnag parliamentary constituency, is responding in his own rustic style.

"These Hurriyat people introduced guns into Kashmir and now the people have realised that who brought the first gun which attracted the other gun. There is crossfire undoubtedly. But the National Conference Government has opened doors of peace for you. It needs to be consolidated, he pleads.

Mr Nengroo admits: "We may not have been able to do everything but still we have tried to do our best and reels out figures of the people who have got jobs, new roads and bridges that have been built during the NC rule in the past 16 months.

While National Conference's main target has been the Hurnyat Conference and the Congress, the BJP too attracts a lot of criticism. The BJP is charged with playing with identity and respect of Kashmir for its talk on abrogation of Article 370 that grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir. It also makes the point of uniform personal code that BJP is making.

"This is unacceptable to all Muslims", declares National Conference president Farooq Abdullah.

Javed Hussain Shah represents those sho shunned militancy for a settled life. He is a member of the State Legislative Council and is currently busy in organising his "boys" those who were with him during his days as a militant and later when he turned counter-insurgent, quite often described as "renegade" by Kashmiris for the poll campaign.

But still if he is supported National Conference of which he has become an active member and legislator is not without a reason. The National Conference represents hope for the people of Kashmir", he explains.

This political battle is different, say common Kashmiris.

"There was an element of hope when we voted two years ago. Today we are seeing that hope is fading. We want to sustain that hope and this may perhaps be the last time for coin. so. This is for politicians to manifest our trust", says Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Bhat of Nunner village in Ganderbal, the constituency that Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah represents in the Assembly.

The BJP is trying to make a place for itself in the Kashmir politics. It has got some known names to contest who say that the bogey of Article 370 was being raised to mislead the people.

While political groups indulge in charges and counter-charges against each other and the Hurriyat takes on all of them, the security personnel standing on the roads, lanes and by-lanes are guarding the hills and conducting endless search operations looking for militants who may still exist in the Valley.

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