Friday, October 10, 2008

Uncertainty over polls, Indian PM calls all-party meet in Kashmir

Srinagar, Oct 9: While the uncertainty over the timing of assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir continues, the prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, would preside over an all-party meeting Friday evening in Srinagar.
Invitation has been extended to all mainstream parties and the meeting is expected to start at 5 p.m at SKICC here. The meeting is expected to discuss the present situation and would discuss the steps to be taken for the return of normalcy in the state. 
From the PDP, a five-member delegation led by Mufti Muhammad Sayeed would participate in the meeting. The other members would be Mehbooba Mufti, Muzaffer Hussain Baig, Iftikhar Hussain Ansari and Rangel Singh. 
National Conference president Omer Abdullah said that he has received the invitation and his party would decide in morning about the delegation participating in the meeting.
The prime minister, who is scheduled to commission the Baglihar Power Project and a railway line on Friday and Saturday respectively, has advanced his arrival in Srinagar in view of the crucial meeting with political parties.
According to highly placed sources, after commissioning the Baglihar Power Project on Friday, Dr Singh would arrive in Srinagar for overnight stay, and would flag off the maiden train from Nowgam railway station on Saturday.
“Consultations at the prime minister’s level with the major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir were necessitated following lack of consensus in the government and the Election Commission over the timing of polls in the state,” sources told Greater Kashmir.
Even after two rounds of consultations with various political parties, the sources said, the Election Commission couldn’t take any decision regarding the timing of J&K polls as the two major regional political players - the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party - had expressed strong reservations over the suitability of holding elections amidst the dicey situation prevailing at present.
The leaders of NC and PDP believe that rushing through elections in the polarized and drifting situation arising out of the post-Amarnath land row and mass upsurge could prove counter-productive and the government of India must take some concrete people-oriented corrective, confidence building and reconciliatory measures before embarking on any electoral adventure in the state. “We are not sure about the public mood and it could impact the possible turn-out,” said a political analyst.
Curiously, according to reliable sources, even certain sections in the state administration are, for their own reasons, now averse to the idea of holding assembly polls in the immediate future and have even conveyed their reservations to the Election Commission. 
However, according to sources, the prime minister is very keen on reviving the democratic process in the state at the earliest to bridge the widening gap between the government and the masses. There is a strong thinking in the central government that an extended governor’s rule would not only have a negative impact on the ground situation, but would also send a wrong signal outside the state. 
To set the stage for elections, Dr Singh, who is scheduled to address a public meeting in Budgam on Saturday, is likely to make some announcements related to the revival of the confidence building process in the state.
The mainstream political parties today said the prime minister should announce “concrete steps for the political solution of the Kashmir dispute.” 
Singh is likely to make some announcements regarding the Indo-Pak ties, reports said.
National Conference president Omar Abdullah told Greater Kashmir that the party would expect the prime minister to announce concrete steps to address the “political issue of Kashmir.” He urged Dr Singh to address the alienation which was not possible merely through financial packages. 
Emphasizing what he termed as “specific political packages,” Omar said the government of India should start the process to heal the wounds of people of Jammu and Kashmir. “We can’t buy the solution but we can talk the solution,” Omar said.
Omar said the recommendations of the working groups set up by the prime minister had to be implemented. “That is the commitment of the government of India and it can’t announce them as political packages,” he said, adding that though there had been talks between Islamabad and New Delhi in the past but no initiative had been taken to have similar dialogue between New Delhi and Srinagar.
Omar said he would meet the prime minister and talk to him on these issues. “Jammu and Kashmir should be allowed to exploit its hydel potential and the government of India should handover Salal and Dul Hasti to the state as compensation for the losses it has suffered because of the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan.”
Talking to Greater Kashmir, the Peoples Democratic Party president, Mehbooba Mufti, said the prime minister should offer dialogue to “separatists or pro-freedom groups” for the settlement of Kashmir issue. The dialogue, she said, should not be for the sake of it but for the resolution of the dispute.
However, Mehbooba said, Kashmir dispute had internal and external dimensions and the government of India had to address both. She said New Delhi should accept the working groups’ recommendations and take steps like revoking of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, more so because there was no violence in the state now and it was appropriate to hold talks for resolution of the dispute.
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