The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi receives poll credit

New Delhi, Sept. 17: Round one in the Kashmir diplomacy bout seems to have gone in India’s favour.

Preliminary reports submitted by diplomats of the US and other key European nations have made it clear that the first phase of elections in Jammu and Kashmir has been “ free and fair” and the polls were conducted in a satisfactory manner. Though the western diplomats have spoken about allegations of coercion in some areas, they have not suggested that unfair means were adopted for the first phase of polling in the Valley or elsewhere in the state.

The US is the only country, which has so far publicly expressed its views on yesterday’s polls in one of India’s most trouble-prone state. The European nations — though they hold a view similar to that of the Americans — have decided for the time being to share their observations unofficially.

The US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the European Union are among the missions in Delhi which send their diplomats to Srinagar and other places for the polls. Most of these diplomats are returning to Delhi this evening to share their impressions with their ambassadors. But a final report — “strictly an internal one” — will be filed only after the entire electoral exercise is over.

Interestingly, it is only the French who have so far talked about having been accosted by voters who were coerced by the security forces to vote. Though the French diplomats have taken note of this, they do not have any evidence to prove it.

“The elections were free, there were only one or two incidents but by and large there was no violence, participation was good; the elections were conducted in a good manner and there are no reports of intimidation,” news agencies quoted an US official as saying in Washington. Reflecting the US government’s optimism about the remaining three phases of polling in the state being peaceful and free and fair, the official was further quoted as saying: “We are hopeful.”

Most of the western diplomats in Delhi seem to be going along with the government and the local media on yesterday’s polls. “The Election Commission’s bonafide as an independent body is well established and there is nothing for us to dispute what it has said,” a European diplomat said.

Yet another pointed out that initial reports that the embassy managed to get from its diplomats in Srinagar this morning suggested that the elections in the first round were free and fair. “In some places there were allegations of voters being forced to cast their votes by the security forces. But these allegations cannot be verified. Even some of the Indian newspapers have written about them. However, despite these allegations, everything seemed to have gone off smoothly. There was no serious attempt at disrupting the polls one way or the other,” the diplomat said.

Reports in the western media on the polling have also come out in India’s support in a big way. Most of them have re-affirmed Delhi’s contention that yesterday’s polls were a triumph of democracy over the bullets of Pakistani-backed militants.

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