Kashmir issue puts India's election officials in a bind

March 23, 1996
Web posted at: 9:45 p.m. EST (0245 GMT)

From Correspondent Anita Pratap

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- As India prepares for upcoming general elections, its independent election commission is tussling with a thorny issue: When should voting take place in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir.


Earlier this week, the commission announced that parliamentary elections would be held May 21 in Kashmir. But that date is particularly sensitive; it marks the death anniversaries of two assassinated leaders -- a spiritual head and former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Given these circumstances, the election commission may be compelled to change the election date. Otherwise, sources said, the situation could become volatile.

The commission has the power to delay the poll by citing anticipated law and order problems. However, because the date has already been announced, they cannot cancel it altogether.


But a delay could prove awkward. Elections in the strife-torn region have been postponed or canceled several times in the past, and another adjournment is likely to embarrass the commission and the government.

On May 21, 1991, former prime minister Gandhi was killed by a suspected Sri Lankan Tamil suicide bomber. A year earlier on that same day, a respected Kashmiri spiritual leader was killed by unidentified gunmen. His assassination sparked a major revolt against India in Kashmir.


The slain leader's son, Moulvi Omar Farooq, now heads the All Party Freedom Conference, which comprises 30 prominent Kashmiri organizations. He has urged the groups to boycott the coming poll.

Farooq says elections are not a solution to the region's problem, and that the people of Kashmir will foil India's attempts to hold the elections.

For almost seven years now, India has been struggling to crush a Muslim-led secessionist movement in the state, the only part of mainly Hindu India with an Islamic majority.

More than 13,000 lives have been lost since the separatist uprising began.

The scenic state has been the cause of two of the three wars between Pakistan and India since independence from Britain was gained in 1947.

Two-thirds of Kashmir is held by India, the rest by Pakistan. Both countries have thousands of troops deployed along the border, and border skirmishes are frequent.

India says Pakistan is arming and aiding Kashmiri militants, but Pakistan refutes the charge, saying it only gives moral and political support to those seeking independence or unification with Pakistan.

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