Apart from testing the combined strength of the Omar Abdullah-led ruling National Conference-Congress alliance for the first time, the coming Lok Sabha election in Jammu and Kashmir would be keenly watched for the future plans of pro-Pakistan separatists in the wake of the drubbing they had received in the recent Assembly elections.
The phenomenal voter turnout of about 62 per cent in the elections to the 87-member Assembly, held in November-December last year, was a rebuff to the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a ragtag amalgam of about 40 separatist organisations, which had exhorted people to boycott them.
Would this election mark the end of the APHC's election boycott politics and thereby be a signal to the lurking terrorists to stay away from the election scene? Would some of its constituents, at least, move an inch closer to the democracy by participating in the election?
These questions are being openly debated in the state as the four mainstream political parties --National Conference, Congress, People's Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party --are yet to announce candidates for the six Lok Sabha constituencies--Srinagar, Baramulla, Anantnag, Jammu-Poonch, Udhampur-Doda and Leh.
Talking to Business Standard, a senior separatist leader, who requested anonymity, said, "We were stunned by the amazing voter turnout last time (Assembly polls) and have realised that unless we get the people's mandate, our relevance would diminish.'' However, he admitted that no senior Hurriyat leader was ready to stick his neck out and contest the election in near future as this would be construed as "surrender before New Delhi".
However, sources say the Hurriyat, which has downsized its presence by closing down most of its offices across the state, after the election, has virtually become defunct. "Mum's the word from the Hurriyat after the poll," said a senior Kashmir-based political analyst. In private, its leaders have been blaming one another for the embarrassment of the Assembly elections. The conglomerate has not even held a single meeting in its headquarters after the election.
In this scenario, it is likely that the Hurriyat leaders may not give a call for boycott. Also, speculations are rife on whether the Hurriyat would field some proxy candidates to test the waters this time. "We should neither support election not oppose it," a senior Hurriyat leader said.
In the Assembly election, Shubnam Lone, the Delhi-based lawyer daughter of a well-known separatist leader, had contested from North Kashmir. Her two brothers --Sajjad Lone and Bilal Lone--are members of rival Hurriyat Conferences. Both of them had publicly dissociated from their sisters' politics.
Sajjad, as also many other leaders like Mirwiaz Umer Farooq, had admitted, after the election that the high voter turnout was a rebuff to their policies. They and some others too feel that the Hurriyat needs to "think afresh on its strategies".