Tosmaidan row: Budgam villages divided over Hurriyat’s strike call

SRINAGAR: The strike call from Hurriyat Conference (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq may spur a fresh controversy surrounding the already hot issue of Tosmaidan lease extension as most of the affected villages are unlikely to respond to the pro-freedom amalgam’s call.
Mirwaiz has called for a Valley-wide shutdown on Saturday to demand relocation of Tosmaidan firing range from central Kashmir’s Budgam district to elsewhere.
While the call is expected to evoke response from the general public in Kashmir Valley, the villages surrounding and affected by the firing range may not observe the shutdown.
“The 52 villages affected by the firing range actively participate in polls; they have their elected Panchs and Sarpanchs. So, they understand this politics very well. I don’t think the strike call will have much impact in these villages,” Farooq Kuthoo, chief spokesperson of Tosmaidan Bachao Front (TBF), a civilian body spearheading the agitation for relocation of the firing range, told Kashmir Reader on Friday.
TBF has come up with a covert opposition to the call from Mirwaiz. In a statement issued to media on Friday, it obliquely accused Mirwaiz of playing politics over the matter.
“J &K RTI Movement and TBF will not allow any political party to play politics on Tosmaidan,” the statement quoted TBF chairman Dr Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, and Sarpanch Mohammed Maqbool Magray as saying.
“For more than 50 years no pro-India or pro-freedom political party has come to our rescue, but to our utter dismay political parties have now started playing politics with this sensitive issue. TBF is purely a social/people’s movement and we will not tolerate any political interference in it,” they said.
So far, the campaign against any possible extension in the lease, which ends next week, has been run collectively by the locals at Budgam. The Army had last year applied for extension in the lease that allows it to use the 11,200 hectare meadow as an artillery training ground. Since then, the locals have been demanding relocation of the firing range, arguing that the artillery drills at the site have brought a social and economic disadvantage to them.
Earlier, Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Geelani had expressed concern over the lease issue. Pro-India parties too have been frequently talking about the issue in the election rallies stages ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
“We aren’t opposing anyone or any particular group, but our only argument is that there shall be no politics over the issue either from pro-India or the pro-freedom parties,” a senior office bearer of TBF, wishing not to be named, told Kashmir Reader, stating that TBF hasn’t asked people at Budgam not to observe strike.
“We haven’t asked anyone not to observe the strike. But the people of Budgam understand the politics.”
TBF has, however, reiterated its call for boycott to Lok Sabha elections and large scale agitation if the lease is extended by the state government.