Peace, Polls In The Air, Parties Edge Out Separatists
9 January 2008
The Indian Express
Jammu: Jammu and Kashmir enters an election year with the good news that militant violence in the state is at its lowest ever. For once, it is mainstream political activities which are hogging the centrestage and getting a positive response from the people. And the separatists too are not complaining. At a time when Pakistan is passing through a turmoil, with religious groups threatening to overrun the country, the relative peace in Kashmir is being viewed with relief. Figures show 2007 as the calmest year in the two decades of Kashmir militancy. Apart from two failed fidayeen attacks and a car blast in Srinagar, which caused little damage, last year only saw stray grenade attacks. The change is visible not only on the streets, but even in the political discourse. The voices one hears are not just the Hurriyat’s calls for azadi but also the shrill rhetoric of the mainstream People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference. With the relative normalcy affording them more space to operate fearlessly, mainstream parties are widening their agendas to accommodate the broad features of the separatist objective. Both the PDP and NC now talk of an acceptable solution to the Kashmir problem, both have expressed admiration for Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula for the state, and both have appropriated the Hurriyat’s demilitarisation and self-rule slogans. They have forayed further. In recent weeks, while NC patron Farooq Abdullah has questioned the basis of Kashmir’s accession with India, PDP leader Tariq Hameed Karra has made a case for a separate Kashmir “currency” after self- rule. Apart from broadening their appeal, the new stance of the parties has had another effect: it has helped dilute the Hurriyat’s standing as a distinct political entity with an exclusive constituency.