SRINAGAR: Jammu & Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate from Srinagar-Budgam Lok Sabha constituency, Ms Mehbooba Mufti, believes in one peculiar proposition: Lesser the turn-out, better for the ruling National Conference (NC). Simplified it means the NC functionaries would operate with the support of the official machinery and fill the ballot boxes with every stamp on the plough -- symbol of the Chief Minister Farooq Abdullahs party.
In an exclusive interview to EXCELSIOR, the former enfant terrible of the Congress (I) in the State Assembly -- who quit both Congress as well as her Bijbehara seat -- levelled serious allegations of the poll manipulation against NC and its Government. She expressed her apprehensions that the ruling party would take undue benefit of the low turn-out of voters and cast fake votes with the help of surrendered militants and the counter-insurgent Special Task Force (STF). She alleged that much more than Hurriyat and the separatist militants, NCs brigade of surrendered militants and STF had been threatening the electorate so as to ensure a zero turn-out.
Mehbooba said that some surrenderees of the Gujjar community from Banihal were impersonating as Afghan militants in Upper Budgam localities and asking the people to stay indoors on the day of polling. She observed that Hurriyat and the separatist militant outfits were unwittingly helping NC to ensure its victory. "People here want a change. They all want to cast the vote and stamp out the corrupt and inefficient regime of Farooq Sahib," she contended and added: "In case there are free and fair elections, PDP is sure to take all the Valley seats."
Asked who among the 9-odd candidates would give her a tough fight, she equipped "The official machinery". As this correspondent insisted to know who she thought would be her nearest rival, she mentioned the name of Aga Syed Mehdi, who, according to her, would get his chunk of Shia voters. She asserted that NC would trail at number three in central Kashmir.
When it was pointed out to her that there was total domination of the NC banners during the current electioneering in the Valley and that massive rallies had been organised by the ruling party in several rural localities, Mehbooba alleged that it were none but the surrenderees and the STF cops who were putting up the NCs banners by night. As for her rival partys public meetings, she alleged that unemployed youth were being seduced with the promises of the Government job. She claimed that young girls had danced in NCs Budgam rallies after a Ministers commitment to them that they would be absorbed in Social Welfare Department immediately after the elections.
Mehbooba specifically mentioned the name of the infamous counter-insurgent Papa Kishtwari and alleged that had issued threats to all those who dared to come out on the date of polling in Pampore area. She alleged that the NCs "past-masters in rigging", namely Ali Mohammad Sagar, Mohammad Shafi Bhat and Javed Shah had already arranged boarding and lodging for a large number of surrenderees and fake voters in several hotels at the Boulevard. "They would be packed in buses and made to cast fake votes at hundreds of polling booths in the capital city," she added.
The 39-year-old daughter of the former Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed contended that a number of the Opposition candidates were in the fray only for dividing the Opposition vote so as to ensure better prospects for the NC candidates. She described it "opportunistic and unethical politics" that the CPI (M) State secretary Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami was himself a candidate from Anantnag against the NC candidate. "He has won the Assembly election from Kulgam only due to the NCs support in 1996. How can he continue to be an NC-supported MLA and, at the same time, speak out against the same party?", she asked.
"When I developed differences with the Congress and had to quit that party, I first resigned as a Congress MLA. Thats the moral obligation. Tarigami is an NC-sponsored MLA. Ghulam Nabi Azad is in Rajya Sabha, courtesy NC. Whats the credibility of their electioneering and statements against their benefactor party?," she asked further.
Asked why PDP had put up a lesser known candidate and why she himself was not contesting from her Assembly segment this time, the former Congress (I) MLA from Bijbehara said that she wanted a larger forum to listen to her "voice of the poor and suppressed Kashmiris". "In the State Assembly, I did my best for three years. But, I found the ruling party here as callous and complacent. Besides, it has no competence to solve the Kashmir crisis. In Lok Sabha I could address the Indian nation and the Prime Minister, who will take the ultimate decision," she justified.
Without any hesitation, Mehbooba asserted that the Valleys secessionist chunk and militants did have in her "hope and confidence". "They know that their message of Hartal and subversion does not go beyond the (Jawahar) Tunnel. They would prefer an MP to speak for them in the Indian Parliament," she said.
Mehbooba reiterated that the Center should initiate an unconditional dialogue with the "alienated militants" and other separatist outfits. When it was pointed out to her that the Pakistani and Afghan militants were now in total command on the States insurgency, she argued that they could not stay here for a minute without the support of "our local militants".
She disagreed with the Hurriyat politics and contended that the heaps of dead bodies everyday in Kashmir would only keep the Kashmir problem alive but never solve it.
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