Anantnag: When the 2014 assembly elections were held, Donipawa village with a population of five-thousand defied threats and the boycott call of pro-freedom leaders to cast votes. There was a reason why it did so: pro-India politicians had promised that villagers would regain the land occupied by the army in the village. Three years later, that promise has not been met, but politicians are again eying this village for the Anantnag parliamentary by-polls.
“For the past 26 years these politicians have been coming to us during elections. They assure us of getting our land freed from army occupation but none of them has helped us even in getting the rent for our occupied land,” said a resident, Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, whose 15 kanals of land are under the occupation of army.
He said when the low-key campaigning for the Anantnag by-poll, which has now been postponed to May 25, was underway, politicians would send their emissaries to villagers to ask them to vote.
“The politicians cannot summon the courage to face us. They shamelessly send their local cohorts who keep on seeking documents such as revenue file of the land which we have prepared on our own,” Bhat said, adding “These workers tell us, Sahab (political leader) has demanded the file for processing the case.”
The village has more than five-thousand population with 2,100 registered voters. During the 2014 assembly election, the village recorded 80 percent polling.
More than 2,000 kanals of land are held by the army as High Ground in Fatehgarh and Khuriman Donipawa areas since 1990, when government forces started occupying government buildings, residential houses and land to set up camps.
In Khuriman Donipawa alone, once considered as the most fruit-producing karewa, 991 kanals of proprietary land are under the occupation of army. In the adjacent High Ground area, army vacated about 300 kanals of land in 2004 for establishment of a university campus but is reluctant to vacate another 454 kanals of land for the expansion of the campus, despite directions to do so from the Government of India and former chief minister late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Bhat, who heads a committee formed by the landowners a few years ago to plead their case, said that the villagers were being exploited by politicians for their own ends.
“It was National conference (NC) first which made false promises to us for returning our land. After facing disappointment, our entire village voted for PDP as the party promised us help in regaining our land. But the PDP, too, failed us. Mufti sahab after becoming chief minister only talked about the land for south campus but we never heard him raising the issue of the proprietary land with the army during his tenure as chief minister,” Bhat said.
Another resident, Muhammad Shafi Bhat, whose 14 kanals land also is occupied by the army, said that he along with the villagers had voted for Congress in the previous election.
“We actively campaigned for the Congress candidate last time and ensured his win, hoping that he will fight for our rights. But after he was elected we never saw or heard from him. These politicians are all exploiters and can make any promise to the people for votes,” Shafi said.
The landowners also accused the politicians of raising the issue only when they are sitting in Opposition.
“We have never seen any MLA whose party was in power raising the issue, but when they are in Opposition they make it a point to raise the issue in the Assembly to fool us. But now they cannot exploit us anymore,” Bhat said.
An elderly man who has nine kanals of land under army occupation said that politicians know “we are helpless and can be exploited easily. They do politics on our miseries. But we have realised these things. We have also realised that they themselves are helpless before the army.”