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The recent assembly election results had more shockers than surprises for contestants. Saima Bhat tries to find out the shortest way to a voter’s heart

 Ghulam-Ahmad-Mir,-Abdul-Rahim-Rather,-Javed-Ahmad-Dar

After last Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) was scanned for votes and the results were out, there were more shockers than victories or losses. Those who lost are yet come to the terms with what went wrong. The notion that development is the shortest way to the state assembly is questioned as many sitting MLAs, despite working remarkably in their areas were routed recently. It has even baffled political pundits.

Is there something beyond development that one needs to strike a chord with the voters? The recent results are full of examples where “development oriented” lawmakers were shown the door.

Take for example Char-e-Sharief constituency which NC’s strongman and former Finance Minister of the state Abdul Rahim Rather lost after 37 years of representation to PDP’s Ghulam Nabi Lone by a margin of 5267 votes.

Rather was about to set record for getting elected to the state assembly for seventh time in a row. In last 37 years of his political career, he was elected back to back in 1977, 1983, 1987, 1996, 2002 and 2008.

Political analysts believe that if development would have been the only criteria, Rather’s win was almost ‘inevitable’.

“We voted against the gunda raj that has become a norm in this area under his rule,” says a voter from Char-e-Sharief who wished not to be named. “Others voted against him because of the neglect that they faced for being simply not with him.”

Another youth from main town Chrar-e-Sharief, Lafit (name changed) made sure that he and all his family members vote this time, and vote against Rather. “Nobody in our family has ever cast a vote. But this time we all came out and voted against Rather just to get rid of the gunda raj of NC workers,” says Latif. “I was not sure if my vote will make any difference. But I guess it did,” says Latif with a smile on his face.

Latif acknowledges that Char-e-Sharief is developed to a certain extent as compared to other areas but the development has remained confined to areas inhabited by NC workers and voters.

Latif has met Rather on a number of occasions but is turned off by the presence of gatekeepers around him who discourage non-NC people or those who do not vote for him from meeting him. “He himself is a humble person,” says Latif. “But people around him had made him inaccessible for any common person.”

But Rather’s inaccessibility is not the only reason that stopped his march towards the state assembly 7th time in a row, there were some unfulfilled promises too. Take for instance Pakharpora Village which has around 8 thousand votes, and has been a NC bastion; for last 7 years locals demand to merge with Pulwama district, which is at the a distance of just 8 kms rather than stay with Budgam district, some 40 kms away. “We have been demanding this for long now. But Rather never took us seriously till we voted against him this time,” says Mohammad Akbar from Hayatpora Village.

Sakina-Itoo,-Waheed-ur-Rehman-ParraPDP’s youth president Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra feels that people have moved beyond bijli, paani and sadak and now seek equal participation and say. “It is important for a politician to stay in touch with people,” says Parra. “A politician cannot stay aloof from people and still expect them to vote for him.”

For Parra, development is not the only criterion that helps a politician get votes. “Jagmohan’s era saw massive development but people don’t relate with him,” feels Parra.

According to Parra, new generation of voter want to live dignified lives, they know development is going to happen whether they vote or not. “And the meaning of dignity varies from place to place. Even a faulty electric transformer becomes a matter of dignity for some,” says Parra.

“Accessibility to a leader is very important for a worker to remain loyal. But in some cases this accessibility is curtailed by people who are insiders. And that is a worrying factor,” feels Parra.

For Javaid Ahmad Dar, who lost Rafiabad constituency to PDP’s new face and state’s youngest assembly member Yawar Mir, understanding reasons behind his defeat is difficult. In 2008 elections Dar had defeated PDP’s Dilawar Mir, (Yawar Mir’s father) who was convicted by CBI in New Delhi days before filing nominations, by mere 200 votes.

But, despite Dar’s claim of good work and development in Rafiabad, one of the most militarized zones in Kashmir, he was pushed to the third spot in the final verdict.

“I am still not able to understand people’s verdict. If people want development for their votes, I gave them that (roads, electricity, medical facilities, education and water). Besides that I gave them administrative units as well but still couldn’t win,” says Dar. “And if staying in touch with people is an indicator then I have been the easily accessible person around,” claims Dar. “But the verdict is shocking to say the least.”

“Mere development cannot suffice a voter. We saw an increase in human rights violations during his stint,” says Mohammad Ibrahim, a local resident. “He facilitated the loot of forests and other resources. By constructing water-sheds one cannot fool people. We too want to live with dignity,” says Ibrahim. “He is one of the accused in the murder of local youth named Muhammad Yaseen Dar,” says Ibrahim.  “And it was because of Dar that his nephew is not in jail despite being accused of sexual harassment and drug peddling.”

Recently PDP’s MLA from Sangrama constituency Basharat Bukhari has said, “He got least votes from areas he had developed the most.”

Even MLA Langate engineer Abdul Rasheed was in the red zone till the last figures were made public on December 23 last year.

Rasheed, who claims to have worked extensively in his constituency, expected the winning margin to be higher.

“Kashmiri voters are confused. They don’t know what to do as they have always been betrayed. Moons and stars were promised to them during both NC and PDP’s tenure but nothing really happened on ground then how could these parties even expect voters to give clear mandate,” he says.

Rasheed, without naming anybody, says huge money was flown in constituencies to secure votes.

Parra says politics is all about innovation. During recent elections PDP tried different tactics to revive belongingness of estranged workers. “We sent letters acknowledging their roles to these workers singed by party patron Mufti Sayeed,” says Parra. “It helped them to reorganize and regroup with the party without any mediators or gatekeepers,” claims Parra. “These mediators or gatekeepers sometimes ruin the party’s image without the knowledge of the leaders.”

Parra believes that a leader is duty bound to take care of his workers who work relentlessly on ground to make him successful.

When the mother of Mohammad Ashraf, a die-hard PDP supporter and an active worker, passed away he expected his MLA to pay him a visit. But he did not.  “I have worked for Mufti Sahab for so many years. At least local MLA should have paid a visit. It was very insulting for me. I was maintaining a position among my friends and relatives,” says Ashraf.  “From that day I stopped working for the party and I don’t vote anymore.”

In south Kashmir’s Dooru constituency former Tourism Minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir, who is close to Gandhi family lost by a thin margin. His alleged involvement in infamous sex-scandal apart, he was credited with “developing” his constituency. But locals believe that Mir after becoming busy with his ministerial duties was inaccessible to people. “He was nowhere to be seen whenever we needed him,” says Gulzar, a local resident.

In Kulgam district’s Noorabad constituency, a default NC bastion so far, Sakina Itoo lost by a margin of 3708 votes to PDP’s Abdul Majid Padder.  “I helped Noorabad become one of the most developed constituencies in Kashmir. But still I have lost. I don’t know why?” says Itoo. “I was always there for the people,” claims Itoo.

A local from Noorabad agrees Itoo developed the constituency considerably but says that he voted against the gunda raj system. “We have every facility but still why only her workers should get Angarwaris in their courtyard.”

Analysts believe that if development is a yard-stick then Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami would not have won by mere 336 votes. The margin would have been huge. “Kulgam has finest hospital, best roads, mini secretariat etc but still it was tough for Tarigami to mange a win,” says Rashid, a local resident who voted against CPI (M) leader in recent elections.

Even for the likes of NC’s senior leader Ali Muhammad Sagar retaining Khanyar was not a cake walk. “See if we face any problem, he is always there. He visits us when somebody dies,” said Abdul Khaliq of Anzmar, Khanyar. “Development is his (Sagar’s) responsibility, but being part of our personal life is his duty as a leader.”

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