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September 2, 1999


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Constituency/ Srinagar

Bullet may just score over the ballot

It is the star progenies battling it out amid the gunshots, fear, pain and agony that elections have become in this capital city of the border state.

Caught amid militant calls to boycott polls and the official directives to participate, it is the voter caught in the precarious poll process. Security officials stand guard in an enabling atmosphere but expectedly the excitement of open debates and campaigning are missing in the prestigious Srinagar parliamentary constituency. Instead it is the fear lurking everywhere.

Locking horns in the ten-cornered contest is Omar, son of Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah (National Conference) and Mehbooba, daughter of former home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (independent). The Congress has fielded Aga Syed Mehdi and the BJP, Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, the RJD Abdul Hassan and the Samajwadi Janata Party Habib-ur-Rehman.

Campaigning is guarded, with the militant organisations stepping up their activities against participation by political parties and security forces while the All Party Kashmir Hurriet Conference and the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party have also intensified their anti-poll campaign. If the voter this time has decided to stay indoors it is mainly due to their campaigning. For others elections only means further tension in the already surcharged atmosphere.

With barely days left for the polls on September 5, electioneering is low-key. So far candidates have only addressed few gatherings and roadside meetings in the countryside and in urban areas, as usual amid tight security. Significantly, the Kargil issue, a major national debating point, finds no mention here.

In this sensitive constituency more than 90 per cent of the 987 polling stations spread over 15 assembly segments have been declared hyper-sensitive and sensitive by the Election Commission.

People in the constituency say for them, election only means bombs, blasts, firing, killings and daily search operations and other excesses by the security forces.

In visits to several assembly segments this correspondent was told that this election brought back the pain and tension people had to face in the 1996 and 1998 polls. ''This time, on the one hand the APKHC, JKDFP and other separatist organisations are asking us to boycott polls, on the other we may have to face the security forces in case we did not vote'', the people feared.

Election Commissioner GVG Krishna Murthy has made it clear that nobody would be allowed to stop voters from exercising their franchise nor would anybody be allowed to force anyone to take part in the elections.

And Chief Election Commissioner Dr M S Gill has appealed to the people to participate in the elections in large numbers.

To counter this appeal, the APKHC and JKDFP have launched a people's contact programme against holding elections. In fact their campaign had started long before the nominations, saying the polls will not resolve the Kashmir issue but only complicate it further.

However, authorities determined not to allow anybody to disrupt the election process have launched a massive operation against these organisations. Several APKHC and JKDFP leaders have been detained or put under house arrest by police in the recent past. The police also did not allow an election rally at Sher-e-Kashmir park on Friday last.

In retaliation, militants have also stepped up their attacks against political workers and security forces. National Conference MLA Mohammad Shafi Bhat escaped a bid on his life at Aramwari Zero bridge last week when he was returning from an election meeting.

Mehbooba Mufti too was attacked at Cheedwara in Badgam district last week. Attacks against security forces and police stations have also been stepped up.

The Jammu and Kashmir police's Special Operations Group has also intensified their operations against militants, killing them and recovering a large cache of arms and ammunition including 100 kg of explosives.

The constituency has an electorate of 8,53,183 of which 3,97.427 are women.

Traditionally, the prestigious Srinagar seat has been a National Conference stronghold since the party started taking part in the elections in 1977, after the Sheikh-India accord.

However, in 1971, Shamim Ahmad Shamim won the seat with the support of Plebiscite Front headed by the late Sheikh Abdullah, father of the chief minister. Shamim defeated former Jammu and Kashmir prime minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, who represented this seat in 1967 when the elections were held first time in the state.

Members to the Lok Sabha were being nominated before the 1967 elections from Jammu and Kashmir.

Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, who started his political journey from Srinagar seat by getting elected unopposed in 1980, fielded his son Omar, who won this seat by a margin of more than 70,000, defeating his nearest Congress rival Aga Syed Mehdi in the 1998 elections.

Begum Akbar Jehan, mother of Dr Abdullah was the first to get elected as a National Conference nominee in 1977, Abdul Rashid Kabli, present state vice president of the Bhartiya Janata Party represented this seat for the National Conference in 1984 while Mohammad Shafi Bhat got elected unopposed as an NC nominee in 1989.

Elections in the state, including Srinagar, could not be held in 1991 because of militancy while in 1996, the National Conference did not take part, leaving the filed open for others.

It was Congress nominee Ghulam Mohammad Mir who won from this seat in 1996 by securing 18.63 per cent votes and defeating his nearest Janata Dal nominee Farooq Ahmad Indrabi by just 1599 votes. However, surprisingly, the BJP which did not enjoy much support in the Valley, got third place securing 12.5 per cent vote.

This time, the main contest will be between Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Aga Syed Mehdi of the Congress.

The National Conference is trying to woo the voters by promising to restore undiluted autonomy, improve power situation, bring back Kashmiri migrants, provide employment to unemployed youths, fight the growing pollution, rescue the tourism industry and fight against corruption and militancy.

But Mehbooba Mufti and Aga Syed Mehdi allege that the NC government has failed on all fronts during its two-and-a half year rule.

Mufti is advocating unconditional talks with separatist organisations for resolving the Kashmir issue once for and all.



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