On the one hand are the militants, regrouping, planning to unleash a reign of terror to thwart the first democratic exercise in the state since the dismissal of the Farooq Abdullah government in January 1990. On the other hand are the security forces, armed to the teeth, fanning out in large numbers to defuse the militants' plans, and ensure smooth polling. Caught between the two is the common man, apprehensive about the innocents who may be caught in the crossfire.
The authorities are reasonably certain that the polls will pass almost without any major incident in Jammu (except areas in Doda) and Ladakh regions. It is the Valley they are worried about. With former CRPF IG, P.S. Gill, having been redesignated IG elections, elaborate security arrangements are being worked out, including steps related to the Z-category security which each of the 52 candidates in Kashmir will receive. Each candidate is being given a bullet-proof Ambassador car, two round-the-clock personal security officers, besides double mobile escorts with two Gypsies and around eight security guards. Moreover, the candidates are being housed in specially secured places including the fortress-like MLAs hostel and houses in the heavily-guarded Boulevard and Gupkar Road. Such high-level security will have to be provided for a stretch of nearly two months because of the 54-day gap between the filing of nominations and the actual polling dates.
The only problem is that the people remain unenthused. The main political party in the state, the National Conference (NC), has decided not to participate in the polls. Fearing that it could lead to conditions of civil war in the state, the NC pointed out that it was a deliberate gamble by the Centre, designed to instigate the Kashmiris to fight each other. After the 106 delegates of the party had taken the decision against participation, Farooq Abdullah, party president and former chief minister, said the "ground realities" in the state had not shifted, and quoted official figures to emphasise that the number of terrorist killings was as high as ever. Abdullah was careful to include victims of security forces'brutality in his assessment, saying, "terrorism is terrorism, whether it is Pakistan-sponsored or state-sponsored."
While Abdullah did not say so directly, he was obviously referring to some of the killings attributed to the Ikhwan-ul-Musli-moon, the renegade militant group led by Jamshed Shirazi alias Kukka Parray, which has declared war on the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Hizbul Mujahideen and other Pakistan-backed organisations in the Valley. Kukka Parray has now floated a political party by the name of the Awami League and has even fielded candidates. The fear is that his men will force the people to come out and vote for his candidates in the areas controlled by them. Judging by the support his people have so far received from army offi-cials, who are also said to be directing them, the people have little hope of succour.
Militants belonging to the Kukka Parray group are not the only ones to have jumped into the poll fray. There is also the Awami Tehreek, a party founded by former militant Wali Mohammad Wani. Wani has filed his nomination papers from Baramulla and his wife Mehbooba is contesting from Srinagar. Other groups of former militants, now operating as counter-insurgency groups, who have joined the election bandwagon are the Muslim Mujahideen—whose party is called the Patriotic Front—and the Al Ikhwan.
Among the traditional parties, all barring the National Conference are participating. Among the 52 nominees in the Kashmir Valley for the three seats of Anantnag, Baramulla and Srinagar, 30 are Independents and the rest from recognised political parties like the Congress, Janata Dal, Panthers Party, the BJP and even one from the Bahujan Samaj Party.
But NC members are not the only ones to have been prevented by "ground realities" from participating in the polls. Many from the Congress have turned down the offer of being nominees of Delhi's power elite. Abdul Aziz Zarger, a veteran Congress leader and a former minister, refused to contest from Anantnag—paving the way for Raj Mohi-ud-din, a close lieutenant of state Congress chief Ghulam Rasool Kar. In Srinagar, Mian Bashir Ahmad, another Gujjar Congress leader, backed out saying he would not want the "Guj-jar tribe to become the target of militancy" because of him. Even the Shi'ite Muslim leader Molvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari, who heads the anti-Kar group within the Congress, is nowhere in the scene.
Interestingly, New Delhi's claim that Gujjars as well as Shi'ite Muslims are more loyal to Delhi was not proved by the facts. At the last moment, the Congress had to send Ghulam Mohammad Mir Maghami to file his nomination from Srinagar when Mian Bashir refused to toe the Kar line. Similarly, Abdul Qayoom, a top functionary of the state Janata Dal unit expressed concern over the JD decision to contest despite his observation that "the situation is not ripe". He said that he was not associated in any way with the electoral process of his party. Though the JD has filed nominations from the three seats, Qayoom believes it is a "futile exercise".
But what is of the greatest concern to the Centre on election-eve is the fact that its various arms continue to work at cross-purposes. For instance, there is a fair war of attrition between the military intelligence (MI) which has been coordinating the activities of some of the renegade groups and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The renegades are known to have indulged in large-scale incidents of extortion, torture and even rape, and the IB wants to have nothing to do with them. However, the MI feels that since the renegades are now coming into the political mainstream, they should be considered the IB's problem. This is a line the IB is reluctant to buy. Their argument is that since it is the MI which has created a Frankenstein's monster, they (the MI) should continue to handle it.
There is also the question of voting percentage. The last time Lok Sabha elections were held, it was a single digit figure. A repetition of that—or worse, if the figure falls to below five per cent—could provide a tremendous propaganda point to the separatist forces. The authorities, however, are hopeful that the figure will not drop, and that with the reasonably high turnout expected in the Jammu and Ladakh region, they will be able to post at least a 40-per cent turnout for the state as a whole. Even in the Valley, they are confi-dent that in areas like Rainawari and Hajin where renegades hold sway, and in border areas like Gurez, the turnout will not be disappointing.
The All Party Hurriyat Conference will undoubtedly give a boycott call, and so will militant groups like the JKLF and the Hizbul Mujahideen. It remains to be seen what the people will do. Interestingly, poll talk in the Valley seldom revolves around who or which party is likely to win. The concern is whether they can be held at all, and about the number of lives which will be lost in its wake.