Kashmiri separatist turns to democratic process

Aaradhana Jhunjhunwala
14 April 2009

On Saturday, Sajjad Lone, a leader of the separatist movement in Kashmir and head of the People's Conference, announced his decision to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections in India as an independent. Newspapers reported him as being the first separatist leader from the region to join electoral politics. After the Kashmiri public rejected the separatist boycott of assembly polls in the region last December, coming out to cast their vote in large numbers, some former dissidents have been contemplating turning to democratic politics.

At a press conference however, Lone clarified that his decision represented "a new method of the same ideology." The end of greater autonomy or even independence from India, he said, would not be lost simply because the the means of its achievement had changed . He reiterated that the Kashmiris' decision to come out and vote in the assembly elections was not tantamount to approval of Indian rule and governance, but a mandate for better development.

Lone promised that he would not become "a poster boy of the Indian Parliament in Kashmir" and, instead, would truly represent Kashmiri aspirations in the Indian Parliament. His decision can also be seen as a criticism of the current leadership of the separatist movement in Kashmir. Lone has called leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (an alliance of 26 separatist and separatist-leaning organizations in Kashmir) "out of sync" with the needs of the Kashmiri people. He admitted that a change in tactic was necessary if the Kashmir dispute is to be resolved as per the aspirations of its people.

While Mr. Lone's decision is ground-breaking, Reuters India reports that not everyone is happy with it. Some Kashimiris look upon his decision as shameful and are labelling him a "traitor".  

Kerala's reverse migration woes 

India's southern-most state, Kerala, is dealing with the problems of reverse migration, as thousands of native workers employed in the middle east are being laid off due to the global economic downturn. Kerala's economy depends heavily on remittances from abroad (approximately 30 percent of annual remittances have been coming from outside the state).

NDTV reported that some 50,000 workers have already come back in recent months and 200,000 more are expected in coming weeks. Finding employment for these men and women returning to Kerala is going to be challenging for the state's public officials. Trade unions maintain a fairly strong hold on in the Communist-run state, preventing many of these returning expatriates from starting their own businesses. Workers also complain that until now, no political parties have presented a plan for dealing with the problems that a massive reverse migration may create.

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