Seize the opportunity, Mehbooba tells Kashmiris
18 September 2002
PANZAN (BUDGAM): The degree of fairness in the first phase of elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on Monday has attracted the young generation in this part of central Kashmir''s Budgam district to participate in the elections, ignoring militant threats and boycott calls by separatists. It was evident today as hundreds of enthusiastic young men and women were dancing at a rally addressed by the People''s Democratic Party (PDP) vice-president, Mehbooba Mufti, and the party nominee from Char-e-Sharief, Ghulam Nabi Lone. ''Yes, we will vote as this time the elections are going to be fair as there were no reports of malpractice in the first phase,'' Mushtaq Ahmed, a student, said. He and his friends maintained that they wanted to get out of the bloodbath that has plagued the State for decades. Ms. Mehbooba told a large crowd that the elections were ''very important'' — not only because the entire world was having an eye on the polls but also because they were being conducted in a fair manner. Virtually the first political leader in Kashmir to term the elections as fair, she said ''seize this opportunity... you have a chance to bring a change by getting rid of the National Conference regime which has been misleading the Kashmiris for five decades.'' Evidently satisfied with the first phase of polls, Ms. Mehbooba told The Hindu ''I think the elections are going to fair if the first phase is an indicator.'' Leading a convoy of over 20 vehicles, both Ms. Mehbooba and Mr. Lone assured the people that their party would ''try to give a clean government.'' The Farooq Abdullah Government had siphoned off billions of rupees sent by Delhi for the development of the State, she alleged, adding that the funds had been diverted for the Chief Minister''s ''luxuries'' such as a golf course and a huge palace in Jammu. She also accused the National Conference of using the Special Operations Group to ''instigate a civil war in Kashmir.'' And she promised that ''we will disband the SOG and rehabilitate the surrendered militants with honour.'' Pointing towards her party''s symbol of inkpot and pen, Ms. Mehbooba asked the people to recall that it was the symbol of the Muslim United Front (MUF) in 1987. ''You have seen the elections in north Kashmir where people voted against the NC. Repeat it here,'' she said. Sympathising with the militants, she said ''they are our brothers and not terrorists as Farooq Abdullah says. And 80,000 people have given their lives for the resolution of the Kashmir crisis.'' The bloodshed in the Valley had to stop and the militants needed to be convinced that the killings would not help. She dispelled the impression that her party''s green flag had anything to do with Pakistan. ''We believe in being part of India and green represents peace with dignity and honour.''The NC heavyweight and Finance Minister Abdur Rahim Rather, is seen as a strong candidate from Charar-e-Sharief but there is also an anti-incumbency wave in Panzan.