September 1999 News

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Kashmir Valley tense on the eve of elections

4 September 1999
Daily Excelsior
By: Yusuf Jameel

Srinagar: Tensions ran high and the Kashmir Valley was closed on Sunday, a day before the Srinagar and Ladakh constituencies go the polls in the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

The militants have given a call to boycott the polls and have threatened to punish those who cast their vote or facilitate the process.

The threat has infused fear among the population. This is undoubtedly, going to have an impact on the voters' turnout on Sunday, in spite of the authorities' promise to do all within their reach to "encourage" the electorate to exercise their franchise. The election for the remaining four seats in the state will be held on September 11 and 18.

During the heyday of militancy, neither the parliamentary nor neither the parliamentary nor Assembly elections could be held in Jammu and Kashmir. But, unlike the 1996, 1998 parliamentary and 1996 Assembly elections, political parties in the fray, this time round, have been working hard to make their presence felt despite the militants' threat. Candidates and their supporting politicians go round to seek voters' support, risking their lives and of those accompanying them. Sometimes, they pay a prize for this. So far, around half a dozen low key activists have fallen prey to the militants' bullets.

And in some cases, inspite of the exceptional security cover provided to them, some politicians could not escape the wrath of angry crowds during campaigning.

On Friday, it was the turn of former Union home minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. He was attacked by a mob outside the grand mosque at Beeru, a central Valley town, when he was about to speak at an impromptu rally. His security guards fired into the air to scare the mob away, but not before Mr. Sayeed was hit on the chest by a flying stone.

Mufti Sayeed, who quit the Congress to form his own regional Peoples' Democratic Party before the elections, was on the campaign trial seeking support for his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, who is pitted against ruling National Conference's Omar Farooq and eight others i Srinagar. Earlier, the PDP rally at neighbouring Chadoora was big success, by Kashmir standards. The Muftis alleged that the "miscreants," who attacked them, had the full backing of the NC, which was "frustrated by the overwhelming support we got at Chadoora."

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah has addressed some massive election rallies at Charar-e-Sharief, Kangan, Dras an Kargil. The NC rally at Srinagar's Sheri-i-Kashmir Municipal Park earlier this week,however, has became a source of embarrassment to him. Only a few hundred people turned up for what was supposed to be the only "major" election rally held in the main town.

He had to cancel rallies at Ganderbal, Magam and some other places after finding out that the voter turnout would be minimal. Mr. Omar Abdullah also had to abandon his plan to address rallies at a few places. The Opposition leaders and candidates in the fray were also faced with similar situations. The militants were blamed.

Mr. Farooq, who is seeking re-election from here, is facing a tough contest this time. Congress' Aga Syed Mehdi, his main rival, is likely to win most of the committed Shia votes. In case voters respond to the militants' boycott, Mr. Abdullah will be beneficiary. On the other hand, poor turnout will mainly go against Ms Mehbooba. The other seven candidates, including three Independents, would not get more that a few hundred votes each. The BJP's presence is only symbolic. The party was banking on the Kashmiri pundit expatriates' votes but its hopes were shattered after one of the main pundit outfits - Panun Kashmir - appealed for a poll boycott. In Ladakh, NC's Hassan Khan, Congress's Thupstan Chhewang and Independent Muhammad Hassan Commander are pitted against each other. The other four candidates, including BJP's Sonam Paljor, may not perform well. It is actually a fight between predominantly Muslim Kargil and Buddhist Leh.


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