Cong voice in chorus for Afzal body

New Delhi, Feb. 14: Congress leaders from Jammu and Kashmir are lobbying the high command to persuade the Centre to hand over Afzal Guru's body to his family ' a demand that has been greeted with sympathy and even support from some senior leaders.

Some state leaders here to lobby for tickets to contest elections to the Legislative Council have met a few AICC office-bearers and asked them to take immediate measures to assuage the feelings of Kashmiris aggrieved by Afzal's hanging.

Conceding the family's demand for the body, buried in Tihar jail, so that it can be interred in Kashmir is being suggested as one such positive gesture. The state leaders feel there will be a strong reaction in the Valley if the Centre refuses.

They understand the complications and the possibility of mobilisation of public opinion by separatists if the body reaches Kashmir, but believe the momentary upsurge will lessen the possibility of long-term damage to the peace process.

The leaders have told the high command that the party will have to pay a heavy price in future elections as the ruling National Conference has begun to dissociate itself from the decision to hang Afzal even though it is a UPA ally.

The National Conference had in the past taken a strong position against Afzal's hanging. Chief minister Omar Abdullah has now positioned himself to counter the Congress on the issue.

The grave for Afzal has already been dug in the martyrs' graveyard in Srinagar. If Afzal is buried there, he will become another symbol of the struggle against the Centre and his hanging will remain etched in Kashmiri psyche for a long time to come.

There is a possibility, though, that the state government will face mass protests and rallies around his grave for some time. Some Congress leaders argue the government can still persuade the family to bury his body in their ancestral village instead of Srinagar.

Security and intelligence agencies have conveyed to the Centre that Kashmir will erupt if Afzal's body is sent to the Valley but the political establishment has to take a long-term perspective.

Some Congress leaders believe it is better to allow pent-up emotions to be vented instead of keeping alive the grudge for years.

The unease in the Congress has created pressure on the home ministry as many leaders have privately said the Centre could have handled the situation in a more mature manner.

Unconfirmed reports had swirled about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being unhappy with the ministry headed by Sushil Kumar Shinde.

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