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Last Updated: May 20, 2007 - 10:48:48 AM
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Kashmiris all ears as mainstream parties hold rallies
May 16, 2007 - 10:00:40 AM
'Dissatisfied with the reply, Nehru told Bakshi whether he knew that the total population of the Valley was only four million at that time. Bakshi smiled and said, 'Yes Sir, Kashmiris are with everybody,' but you never know what they will do when it comes to asserting their will.''

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[RxPG] Srinagar, May 16 - Slowly but surely, Jammu and Kashmir is throwing up a surprise. While the shadow of violence still lurks over the valley, sizeable crowds are beginning to attend meetings held by mainstream political parties.

The National Conference, the People's Democratic Party -, the People's Democratic Forum -, the Congress and even the Bharatiya Janata Party - have been holding public meetings and road shows in the valley.

While assembly polls are due next year, various parties have speeded up political activity in anticipation of elections by the yearend in view of the squabbling in the Congress-PDP-led coalition here.

A National Conference rally at the Sher-e-Kashmir Park was attended by nearly 15,000 supporters last month.

The PDF has been holding impressive public meetings in the central district of Badgam as its chairman, Hakim Yasin, hails from there.

The PDP public meetings addressed by former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti, especially in south Kashmir areas, are well attended by enthusiastic supporters.

The Congress' public meetings in north Kashmir areas have evoked an encouraging public response.

A roadshow by the BJP last week also had around 500 supporters, even though the BJP has no representative from the valley in the 87-member state assembly.

Kashmir today is a far cry from the days when separatists used to keep coffins outside polling booths here in the early and mid 1990s, asserting that no living being would participate in pro-India political activity.

Of course, public meetings organised by separatist leaders like Syed Ali Geelani still draw large crowds.

Geelani, who returned here last month after undergoing a kidney surgery for cancer in the Tata Memorial Hospital -, was received by a huge number of supporters at the Eidgah grounds near the Martyrs' Graveyard here.

But mainstream parties are beginning to hold their own.

Public attendance at these political meetings assumes significance in Kashmir because secessionist violence still continues here though the ferocity of the guerrilla attacks appears to have decreased.

State Director General of Police Gopal Sharma said here recently that around 1,200 guerrillas were still active across Kashmir and their firepower was intact though the number of violent incidents had considerably come down.

Elderly Kashmiris have a queer explanation for the presence of locals at various political meetings in the valley.

Agha Ashraf Ali, a renowned academician and orator here, told IANS: 'It is said that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, once asked Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, the then prime minister of the state, as to how many Kashmiris supported him.

'Known for his political acumen, the Bakshi said four million. Amused, Nehru told him how many were then the supporters of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah who was in prison those days. The Bakshi again said four million.

'Dissatisfied with the reply, Nehru told Bakshi whether he knew that the total population of the Valley was only four million at that time. Bakshi smiled and said, 'Yes Sir, Kashmiris are with everybody,' but you never know what they will do when it comes to asserting their will.''

Bakshi's witticism notwithstanding, the fact is the locals want to reach out and assert themselves after having remained virtually choked under the fear of the gun from both sides for nearly two decades now.

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