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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
Kashmiri politician in veil row
Mehbooba Mufti
Ms Mufti (left) says she suspected cheating
India's Election Commission has asked police in Jammu and Kashmir to charge a leading local politician after she unveiled a Muslim woman during voting.

Mehbooba Mufti, head of the state's ruling People's Democratic Party, removed the voter's veil inside a polling station last week in Srinagar.

Electoral officials want her charged with harassment and intimidation.

Ms Mufti says she wanted to find out the woman's identity as she suspected she might be voting fraudulently.

Women's organisations have heavily criticised Ms Mufti's action, and her opponents have threatened to boycott remaining phases of voting unless action is taken.

'Voting fraud'

Ms Mufti said women had been using the cover of the veil to cast fake votes in the general election.

[Mehbooba Mufti] is not empowered to act like a bully
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah
But the woman - who left before voting - turned out to be a genuine voter and was on the voter list at the poll.

"I was wearing a burqa to protect my identity. You know what it means to cast your vote in the India elections in Kashmir," she told BBC Urdu Online.

Militants are boycotting elections in the disputed territory and have threatened those who vote.

When police visited the woman's home, her family locked the doors, fearing militants had come to kill her.

"[Mehbooba Mufti] is not empowered to act like a bully and go around spreading fear among voters," said Omar Abdullah, the leader of the opposition National Conference party who is standing in the election.

These people [the opposition] use poor and hapless women who put on burqas and are paid to become mobile voters
Mehbooba Mufti
People's Democratic Party leader
The incident, caught on television, is being replayed throughout the country and does not cast the PDP in a good light.

But Ms Mufti said she welcomes an inquiry.

'Mobile voters'

She said the National Conference had its own voters who moved from one polling booth to another to place false votes.

"These people use poor and hapless women who put on burqas and are paid to become mobile voters," she said.

Ms Mufti, the daughter of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, is standing for parliament in the state's Anantnag constituency.

Voting in Indian-administered Kashmir is taking place on all four main polling days because of the security threat posed by Muslim militants opposed to Indian rule.

The last day of voting in the general election is next Monday, with results due on 13 May.


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