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For Kashmir voters, issues and promises remain the same

By F. Ahmed, IANS,

Srinagar : Raising the same issues in almost the same pitch in their election campaigns, the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are busy accusing each other of deceiving the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

The rival parties are promising greater devolution of powers to the state through the autonomy slogan of the National Conference and the self-rule slogan of the PDP.

“They have copied our autonomy document and are now calling it self-rule which is meant to deceive the people,” says Farooq Abdullah, the National Conference president and former chief minister, who is contesting from Srinagar.

Abdullah’s long time political rival Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the PDP patron, unequivocally criticises him.

“He (Abdullah) passed the autonomy resolution in the state assembly and then allowed it to be trashed by the central government in 2000. The National Conference has never been serious while fighting for the rights of the people here,” Sayeed said at a rally in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, a strong bastion of his party.

Voters feel confused, says the editor of a leading daily newspaper here.

“They are confusing the voters on all fronts. But what the voter does would be known only after the results are out,” he said, not wishing to be identified.

The rival parties also speak of withdrawal of armed forces from the populated areas and repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), but continue to blame each other for having done nothing concrete towards achieving this.

“We got an army camp removed from Bomai village near Sopore town within less than a month of coming to power. The PDP always made emotive issues of army withdrawal from populated areas, but actually did nothing on the ground to achieve it,” senior National Conference leader Ali Mohammed Sagar said at an election meeting here.

But PDP president Mehbooba Mufti holds the National Conference responsible for the invocation of the AFSPA in the state, which has since 1989 been battling terrorism which has left over 47,000 people dead.

“It is the National Conference which in the very first place got the AFSPA to Kashmir. Now they are talking of its repeal to deceive the voters,” Mehbooba Mufti told an election meeting of her party in Anantnag.

The India-Pakistan peace process is another issue which tops the election campaign of the two parties in the valley.

“In our rule, there was a general sense of security among the people. The cross-border bus was started and the India-Pakistan peace process began to ease tensions between the two neighbours,” Mehbooba Mufti said.

The National Conference counters by saying very few people even today use the cross-border bus service to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the pace of cross-border trade between the two parts of Kashmir has not picked up at all.

“How many people have actually used the bus or traded goods across the border? These still remain photo opportunities which the PDP wants to encash,” said a senior National Conference leader here.

Both parties are promising roads, healthcare, employment and economic packages to boost the valley’s shattered economy.

“They (National Conference) didn’t do it then, they shall not do it now,” said Mufti Sayeed.

“How much did he do during his tenure?” pat comes the retort from the National Conference’s south Kashmir candidate Mirza Mehboob Beg.

(F. Ahmed can be contacted at [email protected])