Mixed reaction to Kashmir polls

20 October 2008
BBC


London: Political parties and separatist groups in Indian-administered Kashmir have presented a mixed reaction to the decision to hold polls in the region. Elections in the region will be held in seven phases between 17 November and 24 December, authorities have announced. The announcement comes at a sensitive time in the region which has seen massive protests against Indian rule. Some 30 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and Indian security forces since August. The region has 87 assembly constituencies and over 6.5 million people are eligible to vote in the staggered elections. Polls were originally due in the country's only Muslim majority state in October. But the legislative assembly was dissolved and the state was put under direct federal rule in July after a key coalition partner pulled out over a land row. 'A challenge' The move followed angry protests by Muslims and Hindus over a proposed transfer of land to a Hindu shrine. Over the past few weeks, several political parties in the region have expressed their reservations about elections in view of the recent public uprising against Indian rule in the mainly Muslim valley. The BBC's Altaf Husain in Srinagar says none of the political parties has held any public meetings in the valley for the past three months. Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan The largest political party, National Conference, said it was ready to face the 'challenge'. A prominent leader of the party, Mehboob Baig, said the party would not shy away from the elections. 'It's a challenging task. But we will try to involve as many people as possible in the electoral process,' he said. The formation of a government was necessary to address the 'day to day problems' facing the people living in the region, he added. The separatist groups have already announced a boycott of the elections. The chairman of the moderate faction of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, described the announcement of elections as 'unfortunate'. He said India had not learnt anything from past mistakes. 'We expected India and Pakistan to take steps towards a resolution of the Kashmir problem and to involve Kashmiri representatives in the process,' he said. 'We expected confidence-building measures like release of prisoners and the withdrawal of laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. But they [Indian government] still think that election is the answer.' The People's Democratic Party (PDP) has refused to comment on the announcement. The mainstream parties - Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)- have welcomed the elections. Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for more than 50 years and the scene of two of their three wars. A Muslim separatist insurgency has been waged since 1989.