The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Angry & let down by hotseat antics

Srinagar, Oct. 16: Kashmiris are angry and frustrated, and feel betrayed by politicians yet again. The brief hope ignited by the first free and fair elections in decades has been doused by the antics of those they had voted to power.

“It is an insult to the people’s verdict,” said J.M. Gulzar, a block development officer from Kulgam. “People will never forgive the PDP and the Congress if they do not shed their differences and provide a stable government. Never again can these politicians expect Kashmiris to vote, defying terrorist guns at the risk of their lives. It is shameful that the two parties have refused to come together,” Gulzar said.

“What else can you expect from politicians' They are all the same, bothered about their egos and personal gain. How dare they fight over something as paltry as who will be the next chief minister'” asked lawyer Rafique Shafi.

“I can’t imagine that two parties who have fought together to defeat the National Conference can allow their personal prejudices to fritter away the hope of the people,” he said.

Talks between the Congress and the People’s Democratic Party on government formation have broken down on just one point: who will head the new government'

Kashmiris in the Valley back Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s claim to the chief minister’s post and the public mood is gradually turning anti-Congress. The party’s past misdeeds are being resurrected and people are recalling how the Congress — when it held power in the Centre — had always worked against Kashmir’s interests.

“The collective consciousness of Kashmiris is deeply hurt by the Congress,” said Murad Sheikh, a doctor in Srinagar. Most people tend to agree with Mufti that the Congress should be able to look beyond its narrow interests and think about the future of Kashmir.

Although the Congress has won majority of seats from Jammu, the PDP reflects the feelings of the Valley better. The general argument is that a regional government can provide the healing touch to the violence-ravaged Valley.

Even before Partition, the National Conference — with its vision of Naya Kashmir — was the main political party in the state. NC was the symbol of Kashmiri nationalism. It was felt that most of the Congress’ victories from the state did not reflect the people’s choice.

Farooq Abdullah has squandered the goodwill of the people in the last six years. Disillusioned by the NC, Kashmiris now want the PDP to play the role NC has forfeited. People believe that the Congress, with its national character, cannot reflect the true aspiration of the Kashmiris. By not giving in to the PDP’s demand for the chief minister’s chair, the Congress is being seen as a spoiler, robbing Kashmir of the opportunity to begin a fresh chapter.

Even if the Congress manages to get the requisite numbers for government formation with the help of Independents and leaves the PDP out, the people will not forgive the party. “The chief minister must be from the Valley as the alienation is most in the Kashmir Valley. The healing touch can come only from people who understand us and the PDP was with us when we needed them most. Mehbooba Mufti is the only political leader who shared the grief of Kashmiris,” said Jamila Khatoon, a schoolteacher.

Congress MLAs from Jammu are, however, just as adamant that the chief minister should be from the party.

“Is Jammu not a part of Kashmir' Why should people from Jammu be treated as pariahs' In over 50 years, the Valley has always had its man as chief minister, why should we not break the taboo now'” asked Raman Bhalla, a newly-elected Congress MLA.

“The people of Jammu will not forgive us if we let this opportunity slip away,” another MLA, Lal Singh, said.

The Congress in its campaign had promised that if they won, Jammu would have its first chief minister. The people of Jammu have often felt discriminated and want to redress the balance. “If we don’t act now, we will only help the RSS’ bid to trifurcate Kashmir,” he added.

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