Kashmir political parties and their workers are using theatre, music and Bollywood to garner voter attention and almost all parties have tailor-made numbers as part of their campaign process, reports Babra Wani

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Kashmiri Baund, Band: These are drummers who play different roles in Kashmir society. They can be part of a music band, a traditional greeting, a theatre performance, accompany a wedding or play the instruments during a band pather. KL Image: Masood Hussain

On April 27, when Mehbooba Mufti on a campaign road-show reached Dhaara in Poonch, women broke into a Gojri song and it was an instant social media hit. The Man Dola clip is still being shared by the party to showcase its influence in the Poonch –Rajouri belt that the party linked with Kashmir through Mughal Road despite resistance from Jammu business and the deep-state.

“Our women folk bring an amazing energy to campaigning,” Mehbooba wrote on Twitter. “They are fierce yet nurturing at the same time. My heartfelt gratitude to this lovely woman with a lovely voice at Dhaara (Poonch).” This is happening with almost all the political leaders from across the “A, B and C” teams. Women are routinely welcoming the politicians in their areas of influence with traditional Wanwun, showering sweets, almonds, walnuts and even coins. This shocked a Delhi journalist accompanying Omar Abdullah. He could not stop asking him and Omar responded: “This is why you would never go hungry in Kashmir”.

Music, folk theatre and poetry have been part of political messaging for ages. The ongoing Lok Sabha elections are witnessing the return of it at a slightly major scale.

The Dhol Politics

Recently, when Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party founder Altaf Bukhari was seen addressing different crowds at different locations, what caught the eyeballs were the local artists of the area playing dhol to attract the crowd. Wearing their party logos on their heads, the party workers were seen dancing to the tunes of drum beats. The drum beating and the folk singing are a common sight these days.

This woman in Poonch sang a welcome song for Mehbooba Mufti and it went viral.

After a pretty long time, the folk artists including singers, musicians, dholwaèl, dancers locally known as bacchekaèt, baande paèther are performing at a grand scale. They are finding their utility in engaging the people, entertaining the crowds and marching with the rallies.

High-pitch music is played during car rallies. Different parties have invested in recording numbers, which are being used across platforms. Apni Party run by Kashmir’s business tycoon adopted Apni Party vote traaw, a locally composed and sung by Kashmiri singers as the party anthem.

In a video of a PDP rally in Kupwara, the workers are seen in an instant dance on drum beats shouting PDP Zindabad Zindabad in sync with the beats. Somewhere else, the women huddled together and instantly broke into wanwun, bantov wazeer e aalaa (be the Chief Minister).”

Local Managers

In a village where women used karaoke mics, Dr Farooq Abdullah was seen enjoying the beats while gently tapping against his vehicle to enjoy the folk song.

“I along with my friend have been with the JKNC for the past 13 years and whenever we are told that any of our leaders is coming to our area we make sure to make all the necessary arrangements including drum beaters and singers,” an NC worker from Anantnag said. “These people keep the gatherings active. People feel a need to participate when they listen to the music played because it grabs their attention.”

The worker asserted that grabbing the attention of the crowd is very important during political processions. “I have been doing this for years now and we always make sure to add as many elements as we can. Like we hire sumos and move in them, playing our party anthem, or sloganeering with flags. That is how you grab the attention of the people.”

Resource Issues

PDP leaders claim they are battling to survive as far as the organisation goes and the resources they have. Despite all this, they are welcomed with dhols and garlands. “I know party workers are not well-off and most of them earn only hand-to-mouth but they make sure to organise these road shows, including everything through their own pockets,” Mehbooba told a gathering recently.

Her spokesman, Mohit Bhan said this is all organic. “These people do it on their own, we do not pay them,” he said. However, the vehicles used in rallying or campaigning are hired. “The dholwalas and the bands playing music during rallies are arranged by the party workers.”

Composing Songs

A People’s Conference worker from Kupwara, who wishes to stay anonymous, said he is currently writing, and singing a new song for the party. “It is in process and I am hopeful it will be released soon. It is a party song,” he said.

This songwriter said that whenever there is a political gathering in any area, the respective workers make all the necessary arrangements, “The party workers raise the money on their own and then arrange the musicians, or local artists who are used as crowd pullers,” he claimed. “The leaders of the party have no role in that. Only the party anthems are arranged by them, nothing else.”

Using local singers helps the party to play a chord with the residents. They know their beats, their numbers and their styles.

In Sonawari, JKNC’s workers arranged a musical night show and sang songs in support of the party. The number of attendees was high and included men and children.

At another party jalsa at Palpora (Noorbagh) local singers like Reshi Sakeena, Saima Begum and Showkat Shilwati performed. The jalsa was presided over by Dr Farooq Abdullah.

Party Anthems

Singers apart, the parties have invested in songs that were composed specially for elections and were recorded professionally in studios. These specially designed music albums were released formally by the parties.

Kashmiri Bachkout, a male dancer, dancing in JKNC rally in Shangus (Anantnag) on May 15, 2024

The JKNC is known for having different songs as their party songs throughout different election processes. This year’s national song has been sung by Waqar Khan, a reputed Kashmiri singer. The song is a quirky number with lyrics praising the party and its contribution. A part of the song has been sung breathlessly. The song is a blend of various languages like Urdu, and Hindi and some of the words used are in Kashmiri, the anthem says, Hal he hal hai (only plough is the solution).

The same singer has sung an anthem for the party leader and another former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Omar’s Anthem which says, Omar awaaz e qaum hai, woh khaadim e awaam hai. The three minutes long anthem is comparatively not as quirky, and more like a qawwali number.

Waqar Khan is part of the party and has volunteered to sing the songs. “I have composed and sung both of them on my own,” Khan said. “I started to support NC after 2019 as it was the only party talking about the issues in Kashmir. I as a citizen of Kashmir wanted to contribute to the fight as well which is why I decided to join the party. Both the anthems were very well received by the public and even though I was offered to sing party songs for other parties, I declined the offer.”

JKPDP has also released their songs. One of them is Sabz Parcham (the green flag), which is sung and written in the Urdu language. Another is Manshoor Soun (our manifesto), which is the official party song for the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. It is sung in the Kashmiri language. The song is full of hopes and praises for JKPDP. However there is no mention of the singers and the writers of both songs. However, according to sources the singer of both these songs is from Kashmir.

Sajad Lone’s JKPC also has party song. PC ko jitana hai, an Urdu language number, is widely in use. Party sources said it has been produced in Mumbai.

Former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Progressive Azad Party has a Kashmiri language chakker, Aazad Saebas traawov aes vote, as their party song. Their videos and reels can be seen with this song playing in the background.

Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party has a party anthem, Apni Party Che Shaandaar, Bukhari Saeb Banaayi Sarkaar (Apni Party is great and Altaf Bukhari will form the government), a Kashmiri language number sung in a chorus chakker style.

The ruling national party Bharatiya Janta Party BJP released its party anthem Phir Ek Bhaar Modi Sarkaar, two months ago, the six minutes multilingual song features all the different states and union territories of India and the BJP’s contribution to the country.

Grooving with the Trend

Social media is being used as a medium of campaigning by political parties as well. Most of the political parties and figures are active across social media platforms like X, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, sharing videos and photos from their road-shows, door to door campaigning and other gatherings.

What is interesting to notice is that almost all the parties and political figures use trending sounds and music in their reels and videos to reach the wider masses. These trending songs vary from B Praak’s songs to Shreya Goshal’s music, among other trending Punjabi songs, most of these songs are patriotic.

Most of the political parties and figures also use their own party anthems in these videos or reels.

Kashmiri women welcome a political leader with routine songs down South Kashmir. KL Image Shuaib Wani

The Voter Awareness

In a rather new development, to make the voters aware various district administrations are using music and theatre as a means to communicate the importance of polling. Kulgam administration used the traditional means of entertainment, Kashmiri folk theatre, Bande Paèther and Ladishah under the banner Hanste Hanste: Voter Awareness.

The initiative has catered to every village and area of District Kulgam, to raise awareness among the masses and increase voter participation, District Election Officer (DEO) Kulgam, Athar Aamir Khan while talking to the media lamented.

The Folk Theatre initiative has successfully broken down boundaries and reached out to varied demographics, including distant and marginalised groups, through a series of riveting performances and engaging storytelling.

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