Elections: A Day Down South

With three days left for the polling in South Kashmir, Tasavur Mushtaq divides his day between NC and PDP, the main contestants in the fray, to see how they are making their last ditch efforts to woo the voterssymbol-N-C-PDP

As South Kashmir is going for polling on Thursday, April 24 2014, I along with a senior fellow colleague left home Sunday in the morning at around 8am to have the experience how political parties are dealing with their election campaigning. My visit was also to gauge the mood of voters and the feelings across.

After hiring the taxi in Lal Chowk Srinagar, I started to track down the venue and timings of two major parties in fray for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in valley: National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The first halt I had was at Pantha Chowk, when cavalcade of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed passed through. Mufti was scheduled to address public gatherings in Dooru and Noorabad.

A few Kilometers after, we were again pushed to the left corner of the road near Galandar when the PDP president and candidate for South Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti was on her way to Kulgam. Rest of hiccups were due to bad condition of road.

In between the two Muftis, I was informed that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is also scheduled to address public gatherings in Bijbehara, Shangus and Pahalgam.

Trying to be well in time to attend rallies of all the three leaders, my driver rushed through. The music and smoke flakes were all around. Interestingly, when driver came to know about the purpose of my visit, he started his commentary over the issue. He termed the election speeches as what one sees before the start of movies, “all characters in this movie are fictitious and does not resemble to anybody alive or dead.”

When we crossed Bijbehara town, we took left turn to attend the first rally of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at Sirhama. All along through Zorpora -Pahalgam road the movement was thin with presence of few CRPF personnel at regular intervals. It was their presence that helped us to be on right track. As we passed through Langalbal, Dachenpora, Kanalwan, till we reached Sirigufwara, on way at few places were buntings of National Conference. At one place few youth were on motorcycles and few in Sumo, possibly to accompany or welcome Omar.

As we crossed the main market of Sirigufwara and were moving towards Sirhama, place which is known for the shrine, the feeling was that something is happening around. Vehicles were on way with NC banners and flags and presence of police personnel was now more prominent.

Passing through the mountainous terrains we reached the spot. We came to know that Omar first has to mark his attendance at the shrine which was being scanned all around. Omar, according to locals, is third main politician who has come to the shrine. I tried to move inside, but was denied permission on ‘security’ grounds. People were gathering outside the shrine. When I talked to a few who were watching the scene from nearby shops, they termed process of election as “compromise with the blood of youth who laid their lives for the freedom movement.”

“What would be our answer to the people on the day of judgment,” said Ajaz Ahmad Bhat, a local resident.

As I travelled to the venue, I could see few hundred people inside the concertina wire and few more hundred managing their entry through the security gateway. A few clicks with my camera, I reached the spot where coalition candidate for South Kashmir, Dr Mirza Mehboob Beg along with few local NC and Congress leaders were already present.N C ELECTION RALLY IN SOUTH KASHMIR (3)

Beg Saebo Chukh Mardaanai, Karu elaanai Zeenith Chukh,” (Beg, you are the man, announce your victory) was the slogan raised by the local NC leader.

Local NC leaders accused Mufti of being turncoat who “victimized people of Kashmir whenever he had authoritative position,” however, local Congress leaders appealed people to make Dr Beg successful as a coalition candidate. They, including Dr Beg, tried to make most of the nearby shrine. They repeatedly referred to shrine in their speech seeking support of people.

While the speech was going on, few thousand people had already gathered, much to the surprise of local NC managers. The space was not enough to accommodate the number. I saw two local NC men who possibly were looking after the arrangements for the event whispering, “Expectation was that people would be in small number.”N C ELECTION RALLY IN SOUTH KASHMIR (7)

While they were arguing and security officials adjusting their cameras, there was noise. All of a sudden people stood up, turned around as Omar reached the spot. Accompanied by NC provincial president Nasir Aslam Wani and political secretary Tanvir Sadiq, Omar witnessed the chaos.

There was sort of stampede and around six children came under it. Few women slipped through the canal side, but were rescued. Few got caught in concertina wire. The SSG men left the dais to help police officials and local NC men to manage the crowd. I heard Tanvir Sadiq telling MLC Dr Bashir Ahmad Veeri, who is local candidate for NC that, “it is your job to manage people.” Veeri’s response was, “this is their love for NC and Omar Abdullah.”

N C ELECTION RALLY IN SOUTH KASHMIR (5)Though that was not enough, anxious Omar wanted crowd to settle down. Veeri had no option but to go and help his men to manage people as two NC men had brawl with each other. The problem was not the number, but arrangements. People who Dr Veeri claimed had love for NC were made to sit on road without proper arrangements!

N C ELECTION RALLY IN SOUTH KASHMIR (6)Veeri was then first to speak. He had all praise for his working president and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. He accused PDP of ‘failing people’ who have entrusted them with their votes.

Then came Dr Beg who hit all round accusing PDP of helping Modi and victimizing people of the area. Dr Beg further said that Mufti Muhammad Sayeed should be adjudged best father in the world for going to any extent to help her daughter.

He even said that the fact is, “neither Mufti nor Mehbooba wants to be in Parliament,” and added that Muftis’ this wish would be granted with ‘stunning defeat’. He appealed to the people that Mufti’s PDP should be “buried in the area”.

Omar’s close aide, Nasir Aslam also was all fire against PDP and asked people to eradicate PDP from the map of Jammu and Kashmir. He said that Mufti is helping Modi’s agenda of abolishing article 370, having uniform civil code and constructing temple at the place of Masjid.

The slogan which observers say is actually of Muslim United Front (MUF) reverberated in unison.” Jeet Hamari Insha Allah, Dushman Haeeri Insha Allah.”(God willing victory will be ours – enemy will lose God willing).

Observers further said that like PDP stole its party symbol from MUF, NC did it for the slogan.

As the election is scheduled on Thursday, the change it has made in slogans is, “Dushaman Haeeri Yemi Braswaeri, Mufti Haeri Yemi Braswari,” (Enemy shall lose this Thursday. Mufti shall lose this Thursday).

N C ELECTION RALLY IN SOUTH KASHMIR (10)When Omar came to speak, the audience was more responsive, so were his party men. All smart phones were focused on the dais to record the proceedings. Omar talked about PDP’s plank to help Modi and destroy the secular values. He reasoned his argument that PDP’s candidates in Jammu region were mainly to divide the Muslim and secular votes, so that BJP’s success could be facilitated. This statement has far reaching consequences in a way that was Omar trying to say that BJP would emerge victorious?

Omar referring to Mehbooba’s stint in Parliament said, “jis mohtarma ko mei ne assembly mei garjhte dekha, us ne parliament mei sirf bola hai, mei kya kahun yaar.” (The lady who used to roar in state assembly could not utter a word for her people in Parliament). He further added that for these four words she was not sent to parliament and accused of her not representing people but just marking attendance and leave.

All the NC leaders accused Mehbooba of ditching people. They said that this is reason why she is switching constituencies after every five years.

“From Bijbehara she went to Pahalgam and now to Wachi. Allah Bachaye jo haal Wachi ke logun ke saath huva hai,” Omar Said.

Omar made it clear that this is the time to choose Prime Minister, so he won’t discuss what his government has done. This, he said, will be done at appropriate time of assembly elections in autumn.

Omar accused Mufti of helping Modi who, according to Omar, is treating Muslims like dogs, “Modi ne kaha Kutte ka bacha musalmaan, when he said his feelings would have been same if puppy would come under his car as he is feeling for muslims of Gujrat.”

Last words of Omar were confidence booster for his men when he said, “Na dawaat mei kuch hai aur Kalam ki nib be toot gayi hai. Wo kya faisla kareinge. Mujhe dastakhat karne hai, fasile karne hai aur logun ki Khidmat karni hai.”

With this Omar left the spot without taking questions. We also left, but to accompany him to other place was not possible as it would have denied me chance to see how state’s principal opposition is managing the show.

To see Mufti Sayeed was also not possible as the distance did not permit us to be there in Noorabad or Dooru on time. We decided to track PDP president Mehbboba Mufti. We drove car back to Bijbehara, taking route to Kulgam. We had no idea where Mehbooba would be. Asking people, calling PDP office and finally policemen on duty directed us towards ‘Damhaal road’. After travelling for around 15 minutes, possibly through Chawalgam, the road was blocked. Sounds were reverberating in the otherwise serene environs, “PDP hai apni Jamaat, Yaad rakho qalam dawaat.” We stepped out of car, walked through all types of vehicles having flags and posters of PDP all round. What I witnessed was Mehbooba in her typical green attire interacting with people. We reached a bit late as she already had started to move ahead.

Before we could board car again, there were unending vehicles boarded by PDP supporters coming from other side of the road. The involvement of people was huge. When I enquired that if Mehbooba is going in one direction, why the supporters are coming from another. I was told that the people coming in opposite direction were accompanying PDP patron Mufti Sayeed.

The people who were watching and cheering along the road side told me that, “there is need to have change. What Mufti has done in three years, Kashmir never has never witnessed since 1947.” They made another point, “Mufti should have handed over charge to Congress and then continued support them to the end. He should not have left them mid way.”

Abdul Qayoom who claimed not to be supporter of any political party said that, “Mufti’s self rule document really opened my eyes. He has vision unlike NC and he knows better how to deal with India.”

Though there were many to talk about the issue, but time was running short. We left and finally attended the speech of Mehbooba in Mirhama. Unlike Omar who came and addressed the gathering, Mehbooba’s way was different. She did not address the gathering on stage but stopped at intervals, interacted with people, had brief address from his vehicle, noted down the problems and moved on.

PDP ELECTION RALLY IN SOUTH KASHMIR (2)We did not stop here. We managed to get through Modargam, Pombay and reach Ladgoo where she had another halt in the interior of a village. Mehooba was standing on the stool taking support of his car. Her supporters insisted that she was not visible to many of her admirers. She decided to stand on front Benut of her car and started her speech.

She was all fire against the NC. In her entire speech there was no mention of Congress. Mehbooba was talking about the issues faced by people in day to day life. She accused NC of facilitating boycott and further said, “It is youth belonging to NC who pelt stones and threatened people for boycott.”

Hum kya chahte boycott is slogan of NC,” she added.

Mehbooba told the gathering that Omar Abdullah has nothing to say about his achievements so he is beating drum of stopping the ‘Modi wave’.

While referring to Srinagar, Mehbooba said that though it is because of Srinagar that NC came to power but NC victimized city the most.PDP ELECTION RALLY IN SOUTH KASHMIR (3)

“After compelling youth to take guns, it is NC which has given them stones. They don’t want peace to prevail,” she alleged.

In the same breath, talking about the youth killed in uprising of 2010, Mehbooba said 90 per cent of youth killed in agitation belong to Srinagar city which is entirely represented by NC.

Unlike past when Mehbooba used to talk about solution of Kashmir issue, this time her concern seems to be employment of youth, security of people.

The people had good laugh when she said, “I want to end this miss call nature of electricity.”

PDP ELECTION RALLY IN SOUTH KASHMIR (4)In her interaction and speech, one thing was obvious that PDP is not only focusing on Lok Sabha elections but main thrust is being given to the assembly elections.

Mehbooba said, “mei jeet ke chote kaam karungi, bade kaamun ke liye aapko Mufti sahib ko October mei kamnyaab karna hai.” This was her main area of focus.

To this observers believe that, “either Mehbooba is sure of her victory or she does not feel it important to be in Parliament.”

As muezzin was saying azaan (call for prayer), Mehbooba stopped her speech as a mark of respect! In a short break, a woman came with a glass of milk to offer which Mehbooba readily accepted. Till muezzin completed azaan and Mehbooba had few sips, she continued and asked people to choose between ‘good and secure governance of Mufti Sayeed or pellet and pepper government of Omar Abdullah.”PDP ELECTION RALLY IN SOUTH KASHMIR (5)

She accused Omar of bringing lethal weapons to valley which she claims has killed and handicapped many youth.

Her last words ended on a slogan which created resonance in the area, “yeli yi Mufti, teli chaeli sakhti (when Mufti will come, difficulties will go.” Before leaving she further said that, “jeet ke wapas avungi aap se milne Insha Allah. ( I will come to see you again after winning the election).

It was already around 5pm, she proceeded with her program. We turned around back to Srinagar. On way we met many people who talked about their sufferings. They claimed that Mufti has been factor of relief for them. Though Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami being the local MLA, people whom I met said that in the next election he would have to face stiff completion or he may be shown the door.PDP ELECTION RALLY IN SOUTH KASHMIR (1)

We stopped to have a cup of tea somewhere around the designated general bus stand Kulgam. When I tried to talk to people present there, initially they were skeptical. While I was sipping the tea and having not so good cake, they opened up. The first thing they talked about was torture being done by army and renegades in yesteryears. They still feel that atrocities are being done. Playing politics in Kulgam, they say, is everybody’s cup of tea.

As we left the shop, there were murmurs behind, “yahan jo b aayega sab ek jaise jaise hai (whosoever comes to power, behaves alike).

My driver made on spot analysis of the situation. He believes that PDP has made good home work and feels NC is trying hard to manage. Now what would be the result will depend on the voters who cast their votes on April 24.

It was already dark and I was caught in terrible traffic jam near Pampore. What came to rescue was a VIP movement and after one hour of stagnation we could manage to cross the rough patch and reached Lal Chowk around 8pm, completing 12 hours of journey down the South.

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