Hurriyat’s parallel EC draws flak from parties, diplomats
13 February 2002
The Indian Express
ARATI R. JERATH
New Delhi: The Hurriyat’s efforts to start a parallel poll process in Jammu and Kashmir ran into its first roadblock today with both the BJP and the Congress rejecting its proposal for an ‘‘independent’’ Election Commission as ‘‘unconstitutional’’. The Government did not react officially but highly-placed sources made it clear that the idea was unacceptable. At the same time, the sources said that the Government has kept the door open for a dialogue with the Hurriyat on modalities of ensuring ‘‘free and fair’’ polls. The Government is believed to have conveyed its dialogue offer through interlocutors the sources refused to name. They said the Hurriyat has also been told that the Election Commission would conduct the polls but there was no bar on independent observers keeping an eye on the process. ‘‘This is a democracy. If human rights groups and other NGOs — Indian, South Asian, Asian or western — want to go to the state as observers, the Government will not stop them,’’ said an official. It was pointed out that the Government’s promise of ensuring a level playing field in J- K came from none other than Vajpayee, first from the ramparts of the Red Fort in his Independence Day address last year and subsequently on two other occasions. Several proposals have been mooted by senior leaders and others involved in back channel communications with Kashmiri groups. One idea is to get Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to move to New Delhi as Vice President and to hold the Assembly polls under Governor’s rule. This may help soothe fears of manipulation and rigging. Farooq has given credence to this idea by throwing hints about being a candidate for the August Vice-Presidential polls. The ruling NDA has a majority in the electoral college, comprising members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. However, much will depend on the Presidential polls in July. Political circles feel that there could be a package deal between the ruling coalition and the Opposition parties for both posts. Another scenario being envisaged is the creation of a ‘‘conducive atmosphere’’ for polls. Efforts are on to get militants to declare a ceasefire so that the fear of the gun is removed and Kashmiri groups including the Hurriyat can fight the polls. Here, the role of the US and European countries like the UK becomes crucial. The Government is hoping that they will bring enough pressure on Pakistan to call off militancy in J-K and persuade the Hurriyat to join the elections. Significantly, Hurriyat leaders have sold their proposal for a parallel poll to western diplomats here. However, diplomatic sources said that they have no intention of interfering in India’s poll process. With the Hurriyat getting a cool response from the West, the focus is now on Pakistan.