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Peerzada Ashiq, Hindustan Times
Srinagar, August 31, 2013
What could cork the chances of any of the hardline separatist groups from contesting the 2014 polls, Kashmir's largest and influential politico-religious group Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) had decided not to participate in any of elections but desisted from issuing any boycott call.
The decision not to participate in assembly or parliamentary polls in 2014 came after a meeting of its central advisory committee on Thursday. The JeI has contested several polls before 1989, when armed rebellion broke in Kashmir as part of the secessionist politics.

"In 1989, the Jamaat decided to stay away from the electoral politics and recalled its members from the assembly and this decision is still in operation," said JeI spokesman Zahid Ali on Friday.

"In the J&K elections, the rigging has always been a rule and fairness and freedom, an exception. All elections held in this state have never been free and fair, which is why the pro-Indian parties won not by the vote of people but always by using unfair and anti-democratic means," said Ali.

In 1987, JeI-backed Muslim United Front contested polls, which witnessed large-scale bungling and later resulted in becoming the fountainhead of Kashmir militancy.

Muslim United Front's leading candidates Syed Ali Geelani, Abdul Gani Bhat of the Muslim Conference, Qazi Nisar, Syed Salahuddin, Dr Qadir Wani and Ashraf Sehrayi turned to separatism after the rigging. While Geelani is now heading hardline Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, Salahuddin spearheads the militant activities from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

"There was mass rigging in the elections as usual, which was admitted by the international as well as the local forums," said Ali.

"After the elections, hundreds of leaders and workers, including GM Bhat, Muhammad Yousuf Shah (Syed Salahud Din), M Yaseen Malik, Gani Bhat, M Asraf Sehrayi and others were arrested and detained under the Public Safety Act in various jails of Jammu & Kashmir," he said.

The JeI claimed that the rigging became source for militancy in Kashmir. "The youth got dismayed over this anti-people and anti-democratic attitude of the Indian establishment and got inclined to militancy," said Ali.

In 1990, Jamaat was banned and declared as an "unlawful organisation". It was in 1998 that it reopened its office in Srinagar to carry forward social and religious activities. It was part of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a conglomerate of separatist groups, till 2003. JeI expelled Geelani when it decided not to be part of any faction of the divided Hurriyat.

The JeI's stand on Kashmir remains that "it is a dispute". "We want the issue to be solved peacefully through UN resolutions but we won't have any objection if people opt for independent Jammu and Kashmir through plebiscite," say the JeI leaders. 

The JeI desisting from poll boycott is a significant move. It may pave way for other separatist groups to follow suit. However, hardline Hurriyat chairman Geelani and JKLF chief Yasin Malik have already asked people not to participate in any of the upcoming polls.