NATIONAL

Uncertainties about post-poll J&K scenario

New Delhi Oct. 5. The Kashmir Committee, headed by the former Union Law Minister, Ram Jethmalani, is scheduled to have a meeting with the American Ambassador, Robert Blackwill. Two days ago, the committee had an interaction with Sajjad Lone of the People's Conference.

The two meetings are only the tip of the iceberg of the efforts being made by various players in and out of Srinagar to try to understand and, if possible, shape the post-election situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmir Committee itself is proceeding on the assumption that the powers that be would want it to continue its efforts even after the election process gets completed.

For now, there is considerable satisfaction in the Vajpayee Government over a "free and fair'' election. But there does not appear to be any roadmap for the post-election scene. The entire NDA regime has found itself badly divided in the run-up to the elections. The RSS has backed a separate statehood morcha in Jammu against the BJP; but the BJP leadership is suspected of preparing itself to buckle under the RSS pressure. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Deputy Prime Minister has cared to campaign in the Jammu and Kashmir election, despite the official mantra of "Kashmir being an integral part'' of India.

Another complication would be that the ruling National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir and the BJP have fallen out. The relationship between the NC and the BJP (both members of the ruling arrangement at the Centre) touched its nadir when the Minister of State for Defence, Chaman Lal Gupta (who is also a prominent Jammu-based leader), accused the security forces of having staged a (fake) stand-off on the eve of the second phase of polling in Srinagar district (in order to scare the voters away, as part of a stratagem to help the National Conference).

These developments will cast their shadow on the post-poll scenario. After the three phases of polling in Jammu and Kashmir, there seems to be near-unanimity of views among experts that the State is headed towards a hung Assembly. The NC is going to fall short of a clear-cut majority by a substantial number. The most optimistic tally that it is being credited with is 35 seats in a House of 87 members.

Like in any other part of the country, Jammu and Kashmir too would witness the "aya ram, gaya ram'' phenomenon. As potentially the single largest party, the NC should be able to make bargains with its own "rebels'' and other "independents''. On the other hand, the National Conference president, Omar Abdullah, has been quite categorical that in case his party fails to get a clear-cut majority, he would prefer to sit in the Opposition rather than get into the messy business of cobbling together a majority. At the same time, there is a view here that in case the NC fails to get a majority, the much-talked-about "free and fair'' elections would be legitimately construed as a vote against the Abdullah dynasty, and that it would be a negation of the spirit of the mandate if the constitutional process is seen as being manipulated to bring the Abdullahs back to the seats of power.

The Congress, too, finds itself having to think about the post-election scene. It is expected as most likely to end up being the largest non-National Conference bloc in the Assembly, probably end up winning as many as 20 seats. Could the Congress then work out an arrangement with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's People Democratic Party? Will the Mufti give up his (or his daughter's) claim to be the Chief Minister in case there is a Congress-PDP tie-up?

The danger, according to experts, is that a post-election confusion and uncertainly could neutralise the gains of democratic legitimacy. From all available evidence, there does not seem to be any coherent thinking in New Delhi on how best to consolidate the "anti-terror'' vote.

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