Delhi may postpone elections in Kashmir
25 July 2002
The Asian Age
New Delhi: The Vajpayee government, unable as yet to give an ''inclusive'' look to the forthcoming elections in Jammu and Kashmir, is contemplating a postponement of the polls to early next year. A decision has still to be taken but the separatist leaders, many of whom are in New Delhi, have started speaking of a postponement following the governmentís reluctance to give a categorical assurance that the polls will be part of a process towards the resolution of the ''Kashmir dispute.'' The US and UK have both made it very clear that they expect the polls in Jammu and Kashmir to be ''inclusive'' as a precursor to being ''free and fair.'' The All Parties Hurriyat Conference has still not agreed to participate in the elections with former chairman Mirwaiz Maulvi Omar Farooq making it clear to The Asian Age that this was not possible without a clear cut response from the government about the ''process'' that will be followed before and after the polls. He is leaving the country for two weeks for a holiday. The PMO efforts to carve out a third front of separatist leaders like Mr Shabir Shah have also failed. The understanding, sources said, was that these groups would join the poll process after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced a political and economic package containing some assurances that would help the third front preserve its credibility in the Valley and across the Line of Control. Mr Vajpayee has postponed his visit to Jammu and Kashmir and no fresh dates have been announced as yet. Kashmir sources said that there was now a distinct possibility that the elections will be postponed to give the Prime Minister more time to work out the modalities. The APHC and the other groups in the Valley have been insisting that the talks with the government should be made official. A senior leader said that these should be at the ''highest level'' with Mr Vajpayee or his direct representative. The Kashmir groups made it clear that they will have no talks with Mr Arun Jaitley whose discussions are confined to the state government. The first round of talks between Mr Jaitley, who has been authorised through a government notification by deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, and Mr G.M. Shah who is representing the National Conference government, were held on Thursday. It was a preliminary exercise to be followed by another meeting on August 9. Mr Shah made it clear to this correspondent that the talks are on autonomy and the resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. When it was pointed out that the RSS did not want Mr Jaitley to speak on autonomy, Mr Shah who has been in politics for decades now laughed and said, ''Do you think there is a difference between devolution of power and autonomy. They can call it what they want, we will call it autonomy.'' It is not clear what purpose, if any, will be served by this dialogue. Mr Shah could not explain where the talks were supposed to head maintaining only, ''I am optimistic.'' About what? He said, ''I canít make any predictions.'' He said that the Centre had been ''blowing hot and cold'' on the question of autonomy for the state. Admitting it was a very sensitive and ticklish subject, Mr Shah said that no time frame had been fixed for the dialogue. Interestingly, even as the talks between Mr Shah and Mr Jaitley were on, the chief minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, attacked the RSS for ''helping anti-national elements in completing their unfinished task.'' The Prime Ministerís Office is still engaged in trying to convince the separatist leaders to participate in the polls, through well-placed emissaries. The separatists are, however, adamant that this cannot be possible until the government is willing to publicly state its commitment to talks and give them the face saver that is required to allow them to face the electorate with some degree of confidence. At present, a senior leader said, ''everything is in disarray.'' The RSS interference is also creating its own confusion, with the separatists admitting that this had opened another ''unnecessary front.'' The Mirwaiz said, ''Trifurcation of the state will take it towards destruction. It is strange, we are speaking of re-unification and they are talking of trifurcation.'' Devolution of power is also the phrase now being used by the Hurriyat leaders who are again trying to expand their base by drawing different groups and individuals into their fold. Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq admitted that the ''Valley-oriented leadership'' had been inclined to ignore the other parts of the state, but ''our effort will be to address the grievances and the aspirations of the people from all parts of Jammu and Kashmir.'' US secretary of state Colin L. Powell is arriving here over the weekend to urge both India and Pakistan to talk. The US state department has made it very clear on the eve of his visit, that the agenda will be dialogue. The Americans have expressed interest in a free and fair Kashmir election with all groups and individuals participating. An election with the National Conference as the only party from the Valley is no longer acceptable to the international community. But as the Kashmir groups are pointing out repeatedly, ''There is no question of participation until there is some give from the government. And yes, it has to be public, it has to be transparent. We want the people to know what is happening, and not be accused of working out deals with New Delhi.''