Expulsion revoked to avert poll wrangle

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 September, 2002, 12:00am

Kashmir's main separatist alliance has averted a major crisis by deciding not to suspend one of its members.

The All-Party Hurriyat Conference was furious with the People's Conference for putting up candidates in this month's state assembly elections, in defiance of the alliance's collective decision to boycott the polls.

The Hurriyat sought to distance itself from elections because it says the 'freedom' struggle that has been waged in the state for a decade is not about elections or political power but about Kashmiris' right to decide their future.

A row erupted within the Hurriyat when it became known that the People's Conference, led by Sajjad and Bilal Lone, sons of the slain moderate Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone, had secretly put up four candidates across north Kashmir.

The Hurriyat was on the verge of expelling the brothers but eventually decided at a meeting in Srinagar that it was too risky, partly because it was already divided over the elections with some leaders against and others more ambivalent.

But the Lone brothers claim they never approved the four election candidates.

Sajjad Lone said the four candidates had since been expelled.

Analysts say it is highly implausible that the candidates would have filed their nomination papers without the Lone brothers' permission. They say the backtracking appears to stem from a desire to avoid dividing the Hurriyat even further.

In a more surprising capitulation, the Lone brothers promised the Hurriyat that they would start an anti-poll campaign in north Kashmir to persuade voters not to vote.

In addition to their anti-poll pledges, another reason the Hurriyat decided against expelling the People's Conference was the strong argument against the move made by two other member groups, the Jamat-i-Islami and the Awami Action Committee.

Hurriyat sources say both advised reconciliation, arguing it would be imprudent to alienate supporters of the People's Conference. Since both groups enjoy considerable popular support, unlike the more hardline groups in the Hurriyat who favoured expulsion, their opinion won the day.