With around 16 thousand registered migrant voters, Habba Kadal is on BJP’s radar for its Mission 44+ campaign. But with more than one strong contender in the fray it is an open contest. Syed Asma spends a day in the constituency to see how M-votes can turn tables in a closely fought contest
A haunted place from the last two decades has gained importance again! It is after years that the place is being talked about. Habba Kadal, a small constituency in Srinagar is under vigil and what made it important all of a sudden is its Pandit votes – the number of registered M-votes (Migrant votes). The constituency has more than 15,000 Pandit votes.
Habba Kadal, is one of a few constituencies in Kashmir which is on the radar of BJP to accomplish their ‘Mission 44+’.
Before 1990’s the place had an aura of its own. The Muslim residents still remember and wish that the life returns to these ghost lanes and desolated structures. If the residents of the place are to be believed, 80-90 per cent houses in the area belonged to the Hindu minority, famous as Kashmiri Pandits. It was when the armed resistance against Indian oppression broke that the minority escaped the Valley perhaps for safer life and better prospects-academic as well as economic!
If their narratives are to be believed, they left their houses and migrated to Jammu after they were ‘threatened to be eliminated’. But not everybody left. A few showed up courage to stay back in spite of ‘threats and insecurity’ surrounding them.
And after all these years it is this card of migrants that the politicians are playing to grasp as much of these migrant votes.
In a place like Habba Kadal where the residents (both Muslims as well as Pandits) prefer to go for election boycott, parties like BJP and PDP are trying their best to woo the thousands of migrant votes.
The BJP, often being accused of communalising every issue, has promised to reserve three seats for Kashmiri Pandit (KP) migrants in their mandate – which they like to call a vision document. PDP too has promised to rehabilitate the KP migrants in their own way.
Talking about the party contestants, there is a variety.
Moti Lal, representing BJP in Habba Kadal is a former President of an hardline KP organisation, ‘Panun Kashmir’. Lal, born in Srinagar is presently settled in Mumbai and is considered a non-local by the residents of the constituency. “Whatever votes he will bag will be because of the Modi wave and nothing else,” says Abdul Rahim a shopkeeper in Habba Kadal. “I will prefer Sanjay Saraf over Moti Lal if I have to choose a Pandit.”
Making assumption of Abdul Rahim true, Surinder Pandita, a migrant KP says he will go for Modi Ji’s party come what. Pandita, a businessman, is presently settled in Delhi. But the non-migrants do not share the same view. Sanjay Tikko, a non-migrant Kashmiri pandit and a resident of Barbarshah says he probably will not cast his vote as he has no expectation from BJP. “BJP or Congress, they are all the same when it comes to Kashmiris, especially non-migrant KPs.”
Academically an engineer Moti Lal perhaps putting his hardline views under the carpet has started campaigning after filing his nomination papers. Preferably speaking English, Moti Lal criticizes the sitting MLA and seeks votes on the pretext of development.
“There is no difference in the galis and kochas since I left the place. There is dirt and filth all over,” says Moti Lal. Appealing the migrant voters to fill up their M Forms, Moti Lal is sensitizing KP migrants to become eligible voters “and defeat the two decades misrule and corruption”. He dreams of transforming Habba Kadal into a heritage place to restore its prominence.
Though, BJP over last elections has been performing well. Hira Lal Chatta had secured 671 in the last elections making 11.63 per cent of the total vote share. BJP has emerged as runner up for the last three elections in 2008, 2002 and 1996 in Habba Kadal. But this time around the chances of taking the seat seem bleak again. Courtesy: the other Hindu contenders who will share his vote bank including Raman Mattoo and Sanjay Saraf.
Raman Mattoo, an independent candidate who won the elections in 2002 is considered a pro-community MLA after he took many welfare steps as a minister in Congress-led PDP coalition government in 2002. Mattoo emerged as the winner with mere 587 votes defeating Chatta with a small margin of 171 votes.
Mattoo, son-in-law of P L Handoo, a former MLA from the same constituency though seems a weak wicket due to his arrest in Kashmir sex scam, which rocked the Habba Kadal in 2006. But he will still manage to take his share of votes.
Though the scandal involved people across Valley but the main kingpin, Sabina, was from Habba Kadal and the involvement of the then sitting MLA made things even worse for the inhabitants of the area.
“We had to suffer a strange social stigma since then. Frankly speaking we are not looked upon with respect after that or else we have a guilt deep inside that we belong to this area. After that scandal came to light many of our neighbours migrated to other places just to get away with this stigma,” says Abdul Rahim.
Stronger than Mattoo is Sanjay Saraf, another Pandit face representing Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP). He in last election was second runner-up bagging 493 votes (8%).
Saraf believes he enjoys support of both Muslims as well as Pandits. He says, Habba Kadal has been ignored by all the governments since last sixty years. Defeated in last two assembly elections since 2002 Saraf’s LJSP has decided to contest the elections independently and not as an ally of BJP, as they are in the centre.
Sanjay working on ground since at least a decade wants to get the youth of Habba Kadal off the substance abuse. He wants to rehabilitate them in a way where they cannot be exploited.
He accuses the sitting MLA, Shamima Firdous for luring the youth of the place by substance abuse.
“I have all the proofs and witness which prove her guilty. She has hired and reared a number of goons in the area on whose basis she rules the place,” shares Sanjay Saraf, “this is not fair and should end.”
But according to NC loyalists, the sitting MLA has helped many youth in rehabilitating them after they were ‘harassed’ by police and administration for their alleged involvement in the 2008 and 2010 protests.
But Saraf accuses her of luring the youth into all the wrong doing happening in the area. “Her hired men even openly sell drugs in the area and no one, not even police, touches them because Shamima Ji supports them.”
The locals say that Shamima is surrounded by these ‘miscreants’ even when she comes campaigning in the area.
Shamima was repeatedly approached by Kashmir Life but she said she was busy with meetings and campaigns.
But despite allegations and counter campaigning sitting MLA, Shamima Firdous, is likely to retain the seat. Hailing from Baramulla, presently settled in Srinagar she won her maiden election in 2008 and helped National Conference to retain their seat in Habba Kadal by bagging 2374 votes, 41.15% of the total vote share.
The constituency was National Conference bastion until an independent candidate, Raman Mattoo won in 2002.
Besides, the other contestants include PDP’s Zafar Mehraj, hailing from the same constituency, he is said to have followings among the Muslims as well as the significant minority of KPs. Mehraj, a reputed journalist officially joined the party last month and was immediately given a mandate from Habba Kadal. The editor of valley’s English daily Kashmir Monitor, he has survived bullet injuries after he was attacked by counter insurgents in late 90s. Mehraj is likely to create a dent in the vote bank of Pandits as well as Muslims.
Habba Kadal will go for polls on December 14.