SRINAGAR: National Conference candidate from the central Kashmir constituency of Srinagar-Budgam, Mr Umar Abdullah, is firm in his belief that the Jammu and Kashmir electorate is divided in just two categories: either pro-India or pro-Pakistan. While the separatist Hurriyat Conference, according to him, is the representative of the pro-Pakistan chunk, National Conference, Congress and BJP have the mainstream supporters. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in his opinion, has no place in between.
In an exclusive interview to Excelsior, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullahs son and NCs candidate from the most important Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, Mr Umar Abdullah, said that Kashmiris could no longer be exploited "with green flags and Pak stars" by any mainstream political party in the State. He described it as the clear signs of Mufti Mohammad Sayeeds frustration that he had adopted green colour for his PDP flag, placed on it a Pakistani star and insisted on "pen and inkpot" as his election symbol. The "pen and inkpot" was the election symbol of the erstwhile Jamaat-e-Islami dominated Muslim United Front (MUF) in March 1987 Assembly elections.
In reply to the PDPs allegation that NC was planning to rig the elections with the help of Special Task Force (STF) and surrendered militants, Umar claimed that NC had a strong mass base in the State which even Pakistan and her militants had failed to destroy for the last 12 years of insurgency. "When militants kill our block president in the evening, two incumbents come forward to occupy that place next morning. You saw the response in the field. Braving all threats, our supporters came out. Why should such a party resort to rigging?", he asserted.
As for NCs alleged nexus with the surrendereds, Umar Abdullah claimed credit as, according to him, it was none but the NC Government which had disarmed and demobilised the surrendered militants and brought perceptible relief to the people. "Had we been like the Muftis, we could have exploited the surrendered militants to settle scores with our rivals. Instead, we refused to institutionalise the gun culture, demobilised these gunmen and openly pursued the politics of non-violence," he added. He referred to several instances when the former Minister of State Home Ali Mohammad Sagar grappled with surrendered militants and refused them authority. Lately, he said, even the Chief Minister had himself raided the office of such persons at Pulwama and initiated exemplary action against them.
On the other hand, he alleged, the PDP team of the father and daughter were "hand in glove" with militants and gunmen of all hues. "They have been making heroes of militants, visiting their residences, distributing money among their families and, finally, pleading for unconditional talks with them," Umar said. He pointed out that the Muftis and the Hurriyat leaders had been selectively visiting the residences of those killed by STF or security forces and they had seldom visited a family eliminated by militants. "Since they have no mass base, they have the compulsion of resting on gunmen, whether those of Pakistan or India," he added and alleged that Mr Mufti had won the south Kashmir seat of Anantnag courtesy Hurriyat, Jamaat-e-Islami and militants.
Umar Abdullah alleged that the PDP functionaries were drafting the threatening posters and letters addressed to NC activists so as to ensure that none of our voters turned up at the booth. "They did the same last time in our pockets and, on the other hand, left intact all the few localities of their footing," he added.
The NC candidate alleged that at several places, the PDP speakers had threatened the people through Public Address System that in case they favoured any other candidate, their houses would be set ablaze.
Reacting to the arch rival Ms Mehbooba Muftis apprehension that the NC would engineer a boycott and fill ballot boxes with bogus votes, Umar asserted that NC never believed in poll manipulation. "Had we done that, how could have Mufti Sayeed and his daughter won in Anantnag?," he asked.
Umar was critical of Mufti Sayeeds demand of unconditional talks with the militants. "Conditions and guidelines are a must. No Government on earth can afford to initiate talks with militants outside the purview and provision of the Constitution," he said.
Asked if Hurriyat and PDP were the "facets of the same coin" why had the separatist amalgam opposed the PDP publicly, Umar said that Hurriyat had begun to realise that someone else was hijacking their issues and trying to capitalise on their merchandise. He pointed out that the problem had arisen after Mufti Sayeed launched a regional party and adopted green colour for his flag.
Umar Abdullah emphasised that security forces should fan out throughout the State, particularly the Valley, and provide area security to the voters. He demanded adequate paramilitary forces and said that his father was in constant touch with the Union Home Ministry for that purpose.
Asked why every Opposition leader was being admitted into the NC and a mainstream Opposition vacuum was being created in the State, Umar said that his party could not shut its doors for those who wanted to become its members. He also clarified that none of the new entrants had been promised anything, be that Ministerial berth or a seat in legislature. "We want a strong but healthy and positive Opposition in the State. We are happy that Mufti and his daughter are holding the other side," he said and pointed out that all parties from Janata Dal to Congress were breaking of their own. "Did we ever break Congress or any other party?" he asked.
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