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Indian Kashmir Chief Minister Quits After Electoral Rout - 2002-10-11


The chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir quit Friday, a day after election results showed his party was routed in state assembly elections. Two political parties have begun talks on establishing a coalition government in the state. Some Indian commentators see the electoral verdict as a possible new start for the violence-plagued region, but caution that achieving change or peace will be a challenge.

Indian Kashmir's chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, has submitted his resignation. But the process of setting up a new administration will take several days, because no clear winner has emerged from state assembly elections that concluded this week.

The focus has moved to the opposition Congress Party, which says it hopes to set up a coalition government with a fledgling political party, the People's Democratic party and independent legislators.

The Congress Party fared well in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, while the People's Democratic Party, scored impressive victories in the Muslim majority Kashmir valley. Leaders of both parties are believed to be in the race for the chief minister's post.

The People's Democratic Party leader, Mehbooba Mufti, says her party won in the Kashmir valley because it promised to give a healing touch to a region that has been plagued with violence and alleged human rights abuses since a Muslim separatist insurgency erupted 13 years ago. The party campaigned on a slogan of "No gun, no grenade - only talks."

But political analyst Brahma Chellaney at the independent Center for Policy Research, says a coalition government may find it difficult to deliver on promises of change or steer the troubled region toward peace. "It will be difficult for a coalition comprised of disparate elements to formulate a clear agenda on governance, especially an agenda for restoration of peace," he said, "because Kashmir's crying need is the restoration of stability, and when you have a fractured verdict by the people of that state, you cannot really expect too much."

Indian commentators and media noted the joy among Kashmiris over the unexpected defeat of the National Conference Party, the family dynasty that has dominated politics in the region for decades but had been widely accused of corruption and misrule.

The Indian Express newspaper called the electoral verdict "Spring in Autumn." The Times of India newspaper said the elections had taken the region "from despair and gloom to the first stirrings of optimism."

But Mr. Chellaney warns that a change in government is unlikely to lead to a reduction in separatist violence in a state exhausted with militancy. "Terrorism will not go away from Jammu and Kashmir, or from other parts of India," he said, "and the level of terrorist violence is such that it is part and parcel of everyday life in that state. A government of whatever type is formed in Kashmir, if it does not have a very clear vision and a clear agenda on tackling extremists and terrorists, if it does not really deal with that issue, with that central challenge, there is no way it can restore peace, because peace will not come to the region just because people have thrown out the National Conference."

Once a state government is in place in the state, the focus will move to New Delhi, where the Indian government has promised to open talks with the elected representatives in Kashmir on more autonomy for the region.