2008 J&K polls: End of separatist forces

29 12 2008

NEW DELHI: The 2008 J&K assembly poll has scored over the 1996 and 2002 polls, not only in terms of minimal violence and high turnout, but als
o due to the fact that the “azaadi” rhetoric of the separatist forces was seen making way for development issues in shaping the voters’ mind.

According to a senior official closely associated with the conduct of assembly poll in J&K , the declining infiltration and militant activity in the state had laid the foundation for good voter participation in this assembly election. The official pointed out a good turnout was seen in almost all by-elections held following the 2004 parliamentary poll, the latest being the one in Baderwah where the then chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, won by an impressive margin.

The high voter interest is seen to be linked with the low levels of militancy and infiltration seen over the last couple of years, thanks to Pakistan’s pre-occupation its domestic matters and fencing of border stretches in J&K. The reduced interest of Pakistanbacked terror groups like Hizbul Mujahideen ensured that no candidate was killed this time compared to 2002 when 50 political activists, including two candidates, were killed.

The NC bore the brunt of the political killings, losing up to 30 political workers including its candidate from Lolab constituency, the then law minister Mushtaq Ahmed Lone. The absence of a similar bloody show in 2008 was enough to instil confidence in the voter to come out and exercise his franchise.

About 220 civilians and 148 security personnel were killed during the poll period in 2002. The comparative casualty figures for 2008 polls are 12 civilian and five security personnel. The impressive 86% fall in militancyrelated incidents between the assembly polls in 2002 and 2008 may never have been anticipated in the pre-poll scenario, which was marred by the Amarnath agitation and its apparent fallout in the Kashmir region.

The agitation was milked by the separatist forces to renew their ‘azaadi’ rhetoric: So much so, at one point of time, all the parties in J&K including PDP and NC were doubtful of holding assembly in the first place. But the Election Commission stood its ground and decided to call the separatists’ bluff by going ahead with the poll, even at the risk of a low turnout.

Of course, in the end, the people rejected the separatists’ call for a poll boycott with an overwhelming response during polling spread over seven phases.

The Union home ministry did its bit by not only providing the requisite Central forces — over 700 companies — for keeping vigil during the poll but also quietly restricting the movement and public appearances of key separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Omer Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani while the poll process was on.

This put the separatist issues on the back burner, enabling the J&K electorate to focus on what may well have been real issues like development and infrastructure . As a senior official put it, the six years of governance in J&K, that too reasonably peaceful, may have added to popular expectations that developments works and welfare schemes would be given a push.

The EC too left no stone unturned to ensure that poll is free of any rigging and there was no coercion whatsoever of the voter by the Army or other security forces. It is believed that the Commission had even spoken to the military brass in Jammu and Kashmir in this regard. The three-member EC mostly worked from behind the scenes, leaving the deputy election commissioners to interact with the chief electoral officer on the conduct of poll.

By deploying micro-observers , the EC ensured that each and every act of the pollrelated officials and police personnel was subject to close scrutiny, leaving little scope for any poll irregularities.

That the state administration and security forces fully cooperated with the EC is obvious from the conducive atmosphere in which the campaigning took place. Due to the secure environment provided by security forces and police , as many as 4,277 election meetings were held by various political parties across the state, up from a total of 2,031 poll rallies held during the 2002 election.

SRINAGAR: A resurgent National Conference emerged the single-largest party in a hung Assembly in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday and is all poised to

Omar Abdullah in Ganderbal

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah waves to supporters during a victory celebration in Ganderbal, Srinagar. (AP)

stake claim for forming the next government with Congress support. ( Watch )

NC, which has got 28 seats, exactly the same number that it had in the dissolved Assembly, said it will approach “like minded” Congress, which bagged 17 seats, for forming the next government after the five-week seven-phased polls that recorded a high 61 per cent turn-out defying separatists’ boycott calls and militant guns. The Congress lost three seats.

Back-channel talks have already begun between the two parties, sources said, adding Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who is said to have good equations with Omar, is expected to play a key role in forging a partnership.

An NC-Congress combine can cross the magic half-way mark of 44 in a House of 87 but there there are six independents besides the three-member Panthers Party from whom it could also count on for support.

The PDP, which shared power with Congress on a rotational basis for last six years, came second with a tally of 21 seats, a gain of five over the 2002 elections.

Cashing in on the Amarnath land row, the BJP put up an impressive performance clinching 11 of the 37 seats at stake in Jammu region. The saffron party had only one seat in the last Assembly. The CPI-M could only win one of the two seats it had.

The 38-year-old Omar Abdullah, the scion of the Abdullah family, who steered NC for a shot at power, said his party would approach the Congress for forming the next government.

That the state administration and security forces fully cooperated with the EC is obvious from the conducive atmosphere in which the campaigning took place. Due to the secure environment provided by security forces and police , as many as 4,277 election meetings were held by various political parties across the state, up from a total of 2,031 poll rallies held during the 2002 election.

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