Riyaz ul Khaliq
Srinagar: Staging a spirited comeback, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Saturday held its 18th Raising Day celebrations at the SK Stadium here in Sonwar with thousands of workers in attendance.
Making a beeline from the entrance side of Radio Kashmir station, the PDP workers had to undergo three security checks while those without party invitation cards had to face a tough time.
The rally venue was made smoking free and cops snatched cigarettes as well as matchboxes from all those who entered the venue.
Breaking a lull of more than one year during which pro-India parties could not hold any public meeting, the PDP workers gathered once again to reiterate their commitment to “development”.
PDP youth president Waheed Ur Rehman Parra said nearly 20000 people attended the rally and it took them a week to organise it. Commenting on the participation of people from south Kashmir, he said, “People are not scared. There is fear, which has an affect and Withdrawal is not permanent”.
Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, a 65-year-old PDP worker from Kupwara’s Lalpora area, left his home as early as 5:30am. “The PDP government fulfilled basic needs of my area like roads, school, and health infrastructure,” Bhat, who has a single illiterate son, told Kashmir Reader at the rally venue with a police drone hovering over his head.
Accompanied by 55-year-old Abdul Rahim, the duo has been voters of PDP since the party came into being. “At least a hundred vehicles carrying PDP workers from our area came to attend this rally,” they claimed.
Recalling the days when Kashmir was shut and curfew imposed for months in 2016 after Hizb ul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed, Bhat said, “Many youths were arrested but wherever we could we facilitated their release.”
Keeping pace with his co-PDP workers, a youth from Baramulla said he was told by his family to attend this rally. “Scores of vehicles carrying PDP workers left our area,” he said with a smile, “but all happened silently.”
Interestingly, the youth – who wished anonymity – is not eligible to vote in elections as he studies in Class 10.
A few metres away, directing his group to maintain discipline, Abdul Rahim from Anantnag said he had been associated with the late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, the PDP’s founder, since 1971.
“This time, there is less number of workers from Anantnag attending the rally,” he accepted. “There is pressure,” he said, “but there is joblessness. Development issues are important.”
Rahim said that he was aware of the anti-PDP mood post Burhan Wani’s killing. “But we helped people whom we could,” he said, referring to arrests of youths during the uprising.
An old Congressman turned PDP worker, Rahim was, however, bold in asserting that the common man was yet to get any relief.
“Everyone wants resolution of Kashmir issue, even Dr Farooq (Abdullah) talks about it, but on the development and livelihood front the common man has not been given any relief,” he said.
A similar complaint was made by another PDP worker from Budgam’s Chrar-i-Sharif. “I am sitting home, idle, so I thought it better to attend this rally,” the worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
When asked who managed the vehicles for transportation of the workers, the PDP man from Anantnag said, “Local MLAs sent them.”
As the PDP workers made their way inside the stadium, a top JK police cop was seen pacifying a group of youth. “A lady clicked our photo with her cellphone,” a youth replied when enquired about the matter. “Perturbed, we have asked the police official to get it deleted,” he said without assigning any particular reason.
A few metres away, two youths were spotted video recording the march of PDP workers towards the rally venue. One of them shouted, “The same people (PDP workers) will be shouting slogans of Azaadi as well.”
At the main gate of the rally venue, a group of PDP workers were enraged when some officials from the security wing sought their party cards. “It is not so easy to get people to attend such events, that, too, at the risk of their lives,” a PDP activist said. “Such enquiries create problems. They need to be handled carefully.”
Holding a cell phone in his hand, a youth in his early 20s was video recording the rally. He said he had for the first time attended a rally by any pro-India party. “My uncle is a PDP worker and a small-time MGNREGA contractor,” he said, insisting his name not be revealed. “I am yet not eligible for voting but our family supports PDP.” He said he wanted to be an engineer.
Listening carefully to the speeches made by the PDP leaders, a man from Budgam’s Khan Sahib area said he had no good reason to attend the rally. “There is no work,” he said. “People want jobs but the government has failed.”
As the ruling party’s top leaders finished their speeches, one after another, groups of Gujjar-Bakerwal members came inside the rally venue raising pro-PDP slogans.
“Some eight community members from Kokernag attended this rally,” said Choudhary Showkat Khatana. He left in a hurry before speaking more.
“Around five-hundred households of our community live in Brindi area of Kokernag,” an elderly man from the community said. “We have many issues which need to be addressed. There is no drinking water in our area. Our women have to fetch water from long distances and at times we have to use horses for carrying gallons of water,” he said. “Our demand is that this issue should be addressed as soon as possible.”
A teenage boy, wearing school uniform, caught the attention of many. He belonged to Pulwama district but was currently staying in the Gujjar and Bakerwal hostel at Tulsi Bagh.
When asked what he was doing in the rally, his innocent reply came: “Students from classes 7, 8, 9 and 11 were told by the hostel warden last night to attend this rally.” He had no idea of what was the purpose of it.