Tral: This strip of south Kashmir is synonymous with poll boycott. Now, as the battle for 2014 Assembly draws near, the town is likely to draw a blank.
On a sunny Saturday, Tral appears normal. Except for heavy deployment of army in the town and the ubiquitous coming and going of their big and small vehicles. No election paraphernalia is visible anywhere.
A tea seller took a fright at the mention of word “elections”.
“Why would anyone vote? What about 1 lakh people who died? I think if a shot is fired, there would be complete boycott. Otherwise, the kin of the candidates will vote,” he said.
Nothing much has changed here since the ‘90s, when the armed insurgency was at its peak. Tral is one of the few places where militants are still active. Locals compare the town with Afghanistan’s Kandhar. It is also one of the few rural areas where the residents still suffer the crushing security measures of the ‘90s.
The lowest voter turnout was witnessed in this constituency during the Lok Sabha polls. Even a legislator, who is in the fray for Assembly polls, had stayed home. Killing of a Sarpanch and his son before the polls by suspected militants had strengthened the boycott factor.
Last week, brother of a Sarpanch was killed in Awantipora area of the constituency. It was followed by the killing of three militants in an ambush on Thursday last. The anger over the killing manifested in the stoning of BJP candidate from Tral, Avtar Singh.
“Tral has its own reasons for boycotting polls. Neither have we supported the state government nor India. Again, we won’t vote if boycott happens,” Numerdar Ghulam Nabi of Dar Ganie Gund told Kashmir Reader.
Unpaved and potholed roads, frequent electricity outages and water shortage are other reasons for not voting.
Bilal Ahmad Lone, a local resident, said the town is being discriminated for holding a particular “sentiment”.
“Hardly 10-20 people voted here in Lok Sabha polls. There is uncertainty among people. At least, I won’t vote as I have never done so. The pitiable condition of roads here can tell you about discrimination,” he said.
“Recently, there was some issue with the electricity transformer. When people protested against Power department, Army, police, and CRPF were unleashed to deal with the protesters,” Bilal said.
In past elections, the main contenders were the National Conference and PDP. This time, the talk of BJP managing a win with the help of Pandit voters amid a boycott is rife in the constituency currently represented by PDP’s Mushtaq Ahmad Shah.
At Satoora, a group of people talked about polls. Among them, a former counterinsurgent, who was spared by militants during an attack on a security camp in North Kashmir last year.
He said, “How will we face the families of martyrs if we vote?”
But an elder, Ghulam Mohammad Dar, smiled.
He said, “We aren’t sure whether to vote or not. In case we do, we will prefer Abdul Rashid Dar although he himself did not vote in Lok Sabha polls out of fear,” said Dar. Rashid is Awami Ittihad Party’s candidate for Tral and he might cut into PDP’s voter base.
Narastan, a remote village in Tral, has given the insurgency some top militants, including Jaish-E-Mohammad’s Mushtaq Mir. Yet, the village including his family preferred ballot in the 2008 polls and voted for the PDP.
“They (politicians) come at the time of elections. Only workers get benefited. I used to obtain ration under BPL but that has been taken away though I requested officials but to no avail,” said Naseema, Mushtaq’s widow.
Tral has a sizable population of Sikhs who face the conundrum of who to vote for while living amidst Muslims who vacillate between voting and boycotting.
“Since our Muslim brothers don’t vote we too stay away from polls,” said Pritpal Singh at Aripal village. He rued over lack of road to their locality.
“We have requested the MLA concerned many a time about constructing a 200-metre link road to our locality,” he said.
“And this is it,” he said, pointing towards a muddy path.