So near yet so far: Pro-India leaders keep ‘supporters’ at arm’s length during poll campaigns

SRINAGAR: The political heavyweights seem to be running a cautious campaign in the Kashmir Valley ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, apparently due to security apprehensions.
In their rallies and road shows, the top rank politicians of pro-India People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC)—the state’s two major parties contesting the LS polls—have been staying at a distance from the crowd comprised mostly of their supporters and sympathizers.
PDP patron and former Chief Minister of the state Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has held about a dozen rallies and road shows in south Kashmir in the recent weeks. And in all of them, he was seen addressing the public from a partially-open door of his luxury car, surrounded by a mass of his gun-wielding personal security guards.
The absence of stage and use of car has also been a striking feature of PDP president Mehbooba Mufti’s rallies. Mehbooba is contesting elections from south Kashmir, challenging the NC’s sitting Member of Parliament Mehboob Beigh.
After filing her nomination papers, Mehbooba has been frequently staging rallies in various districts of south Kashmir. And she too is seen using her car as the makeshift stage for addressing the public.
In a rally in Pulwama late last month, she addressed her supporters without stepping down from her car, which was circled by a contingent of her security guards. And she followed a similar approach during her rally at Devsar Kulgam on Tuesday.
If the witnesses are to be believed, the security set up at the rallies is unusual in many ways.
“I was in a government office when Mufti Sayeed was holding a rally in Srigufwara close to Bijbehara area. I tried to move out, but when his security guards saw me they forced me to stay indoors. I was asked to either be a part of the audience or stay inside the office,” Shabir Ahmad, a witness told Kashmir Reader. “I was like a hostage till the rally ended.”
The NC leaders are also following a cautious approach during the rallies. NC president Farooq Abdullah’s security guards didn’t allow him to stop and talk to media after his rally ended at Khanabal, Anantnag recently.
“The media persons were asked to shoot questions while Farooq was at the stage. The distance was so much that he couldn’t hear the scribes. And later when he tried to stop to talk to media, he was almost whisked away by his security guards,” a journalist, wishing not to be named, said.
Elections in the Valley are always a major issue given that a large chunk of the population stays away from the process, which is dubbed as “farce” by the pro-freedom camp.
However, attacks on the rallies of pro-India politicians have been rare even in the thick of insurgency period, making the visible caution followed by the politicians in the upcoming LS polls more noticeable.
The media reports have suggested that the police have asked the pro-India politicians to stage rallies only at designated spots, but there hasn’t been an overt call for caution from the police so far.
Director General of Police (DGP) Ashok Prasad has, on the contrary, declared militant threat to upcoming polls as not more than usual.
“The level of threat is same from the militants as it was during the previous elections. We are ready to meet any challenge, and this year the security will be more alert and foolproof,” Prasad was quoted as saying by a local news agency CNS on Tuesday.